Faced with dropping mail volume due to the recession and increasing use of the Internet, metropolitan post offices are being forced to consolidate mail routes. Dover is no exception, as city residents found out Aug. 22.

    Even the United States Postal Service has not been immune to the worst recession in 70 years.

    The post office closed out the third quarter of 2009 with a $2.4 billion loss, which postal officials blamed on both the recession and the continuing use of email and other electronic transactions.

    The decrease in mail volume has made itself felt at Dover’s post office, where postmaster Lynda DeAngelis has consolidated some of the 56 mail routes in the city’s two ZIP codes.

    The revised routes took effect Aug. 22, she said, adding the restructuring has cut the number of mail carriers by five, a loss the Dover facility has absorbed through attrition.

    No one was laid off, DeAngelis said. Before the restructuring and as those positions became vacant, remaining carriers were shifted or part-timers were used to cover those routes, she said.

    Counting the letter carriers, Dover’s postal service employs approximately 105 people, DeAngelis said.

    Postal customers in Dover still are receiving their mail at their homes or neighborhood mailboxes, but some customers may have seen a change in who’s bringing their letters and sales flyers, while some are getting their mail delivered at a different time than before.

    Some postal customers in Dover have seen no change at all, she said.

    Dover’s postal delivery services cover ZIP codes 19901, which generally is on the east side of State Street and Route 13, and 19904, which is on the west side. ZIP code 19902, which is official mail for Dover Air Force Base, and 19903, which is for post office boxes, are not affected.

Mail volume continues to drop

    As with other postal facilities throughout the country, Dover has experienced a severe drop in mail volume over the past two years. For fiscal year 2009 so far, workers at Dover’s post office have handled more than 21 million pieces of mail, approximately 15% less than the prior year. In FY 2008, they processed approximately 8% less than the year before.

    Mail carriers deliver to more than 29,500 households and businesses in the Dover area, DeAngelis said.

    The route consolidations were made so the postal service could comply with labor agreements with the National Association of Letter Carriers union that guarantee the carriers regular work hours.

    “The mail volume has gotten so low we had to adapt the routes to give them eight hours work,” DeAngelis said.

    “To get their hours in, we have been using the carriers on other routes,” she said.

    Letter carriers generally spend several hours in the postal facility sorting mail for their delivery routes, and the rest of the day actually making their rounds. Although there’s been little change in the amount of time it takes a driver to cover his or her route, slacking mail volume and the use of automatic sorting machines means the carriers do not have to spend as much time in the post office itself.

    The restructuring has affected virtually all of the more than 159,000 city mail routes in the nation, said Ray Daiutolo, spokesman for the postal district that covers Delaware.

    “We need to match our changing workload with the actual work so that we can be more efficient,” Daiutolo said. “It also helps us keep costs down.”

    “We believe that through attrition, we can address these reductions,” he added. “It’s my understanding we have not gotten to the point where people have become extraneous.”

Service suffers another quarterly loss

    Despite cost-cutting moves and efforts to raise more revenue, including increasing the price of delivering first-class mail, the postal service continues to lose money.

    The USPS is expected to be at least $6 billion in the red by the end of this fiscal year, and has posted a deficit in 11 of the last 12 fiscal quarters, according to an Aug. 5 report issued by the postal service. The service’s financial problems are compounded by a requirement to pay more than $5 billion annually to prefund retiree health benefits.

    Efforts to cut costs nationwide include halting construction of new postal facilities, freezing pay for postal officers and executives and, as DeAngelis and other city postmasters have done, matching work hours to the reduced mail volume, Postmaster General John Potter said.

    “Securing the financial stability of the postal service will require continued efforts in all these areas, as well as further review of retiree health benefit prefunding,” Potter said in the report.

    That also includes action to allow the USPS to deliver mail five days a week instead of six, an idea that has surfaced repeatedly over the past few years. Congress, which must authorize such a change, has yet to take action on it.

    These moves, and others, are necessary to try to restore solvency to the postal service, Potter said.

    In Dover, DeAngelis sees the consolidation of local mail routes as a way to help get the postal service back into the black without making drastic changes in how it does business.

    “We’re doing this to help the customers,” she said. “We’re working to save the post office money and to provide more consistent delivery service.”

Email Jeff Brown at jeff.brown@doverpost.com