Dozens of Post Offices Saved From Closure

More than 70 post office branches and stations have been saved from closure as the U.S. Postal Service continues to pare its list of outlets that could be shuttered to staunch a tide of red ink.

The postal service announced this week that its list of "candidates for consolidation" had shrunk from 241 to 168. The latest list is available here.

"Reducing over-capacity in retail and delivery operations is a smart business move," Steven J. Forte, U.S.P.S operations senior vice president, said in a written statement. "Every effort is being made to maintain and improve customer access to postal services."

The last few months have been a trying time for supporters of the 234-year-old government-run mail service. The postal service reported a loss of $3.8 billion for the last fiscal year and, even before the numbers became final, cuts were in the works.

Over the summer, the U.S.P.S.'s list of post office stations and branches that could face closure included 3,600 of its 36,000 locations. The closure decisions, the U.S.P.S. said, would be based on factors such as delivery volumes per location and proximity to other post offices.

The U.S.P.S. says that it's not certain that the 168 locations that remain on the list today will actually be closed.

But even those mail fans relieved to learn in recent months that their neighborhood branches would be saved still have to contend with another unnerving possibility: Since January, Postmaster General John E. Potter has been pushing Congress to allow the postal service to cut its delivery schedule from six days a week to five, eliminating Saturday delivery.

"We have concluded that reducing the frequency of mail delivery from six to five days a week can provide the financial relief that is necessary to restore the fiscal health of the Postal Service," Potter told a Senate subcommittee during a hearing in August.

The change, Potter said, is "difficult but necessary."

Abandoning 'Snail Mail'

Even as the U.S. population and the number of places the post office delivers to grows, the U.S.P.S. is losing business like never before. It delivered 177 billion pieces of mail in its past fiscal year, a steep 13 percent drop from 2008 and a marked new low point for the decade. Since 2000, mail volume had bounced between the old low of 202 billion pieces of mail and a high of 213 billion.

The recession helps to account for much of this year's decline -- cash-strapped businesses are spending less on mailings -- but the general trend of abandoning what many now call "snail mail" in favor of zippy Internet-based communication and transactions, including bill payments, is the more worrisome culprit for the U.S.P.S.

Now, "it's absolutely essential that we refocus our business effort to change with changing consumer behavior and the times," said U.S.P.S. spokesman Greg Frey.

Much of the post office's changes to date have involved shrinking -- it recently saved $6 billion by eliminating 12,000 postal carrier routes by cutting employees' hours, freezing salaries and stopping all new hiring, among other moves. Head count at the post office is down too: from 787,538 in 1999 to 623,128 this year.

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