• on Sep 23rd, 2013 in Products & Services | 19 comments

    Until the early 1970s, citizens applying for passports had to wait in long lines at one of 10 U.S. Department of State passport offices or at a federal or state court. The traveling public was not happy about the inconvenient locations of these offices or the hours’ long wait to submit an application, and they let their elected officials know. The solution allowed post offices to accept and process passport applications on behalf of the State Department. The passports were then mailed directly to the applicants.

    This arrangement has proven to be a highly successful marriage of government services. With many post offices offering passport services, it has become far more convenient for citizens. Today, customers can go online to find the nearest post office with passport services and also find the number to call to make an appointment. (Most post offices require customers to make an appointment for passport service.)

    The execution fee for a passport is $25. In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Postal Service processed 5.7 million passport applications for revenue of $142 million. With the additional services it offers, such as passport photos and return postage, the Postal Service’s total revenues from passport services in 2012 was $182 million. It is a nice chunk of change for a service the Postal Service does not need to market aggressively. Still, the Postal Service has seen a significant decline in passport revenue over the past 4 years. In 2008, it earned $283 million from passport services.

    The decline in passport revenue could be attributed to a few things. First, the weak economy has undoubtedly reduced international travel over the past 4 years. It could also be that 2008 was an especially strong year for passport revenue because changes taking effect in 2009 required a passport to return to the U.S. from travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. However, postal staff reduction and facility closures could also be playing a role. Customers have complained about waiting too many days or weeks for a passport appointment at their Post Office or about being directed elsewhere for service.

    Why do you think passport services revenue has declined so dramatically in the past few years? Is there a way the Postal Service could improve the process? What changes could it make to maximize passport revenues?

  • on Mar 11th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 8 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service adds more than 600,000 new delivery points each year, mostly in the form of new residential homes. While most new residences include cluster boxes rather than to-the-door delivery to reduce costs, delivery remains the Postal Service's largest cost center. Canada Post, which has suffered losses recently after years of profits, has introduced a $200 per address charge that it is assessing housing developers for installing community mailboxes. Canada Post claims the charge “is in keeping with how other infrastructure costs are shared by utilities and other services." Canada Post, which adds almost 200,000 new addresses a year, could earn tens of millions of dollars from the fee and it would offset the added costs of new delivery points. Housing developers in Canada have been fighting the charge, arguing that it is unfair to assess new homes only, which they say receive substandard delivery service compared to older homes and apartment buildings that get delivery to the door. In the United States, the Postal Service does not charge a fee to set-up and deliver to a new address. New delivery points are generally more profitable than old ones because they generate on average more volume and revenue and they cost less due to the increased use of lower cost options such as curbside and cluster boxes. Still, other utilities, such as gas, electric, and cable companies, charge customers a new service fee when they move or start service. Cities and counties also often charge an administrative fee for services, such as water, when a customer changes or adds a new address, sometimes in the $50 range. The City of Mountain View, CA, charges a hefty administrative fee of $195 to change or add a new address. Should the Postal Service recover the costs associated with new delivery points by charging customers a one-time “set-up” fee for their new home or business location? Or does that effectively penalize a new homeowner for receiving what is usually a more cost-effective form of delivery (cluster boxes)? If the Postal Service were to charge, should it only charge for the administrative costs it incurs to set up new addresses, such as completing and reviewing Postal Service forms and updating to the Address Management System and Delivery Sequence File? Should it charge the developer as Canada Post is doing? Or should it retain the status quo and keep it so that costs are shared by all ratepayers? Are there other solutions?

  • on Jan 28th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments

    With a large network of facilities and post offices, and yet mail volumes in decline, the U.S. Postal Service finds itself with a good deal of unused capacity. The dynamics over closing and consolidating facilities has raised the question of whether there are other uses for them. Further, the Postal Service could still own the facilities even after it closes or consolidates operations. Rather than sit empty, could the Postal Service use some of that capacity in non-traditional ways to generate additional revenue? One idea, if the law allowed, would be for the Postal Service to provide self-storage services at unused processing facilities. It could also provide safe-deposit boxes at under-used post offices. Self-storage allows users to rent storage space in the form of rooms, lockers or containers on a monthly or annual basis. Safety deposit boxes might be a miniaturized version of self-storage units, where the user could store especially valuable goods or papers in a secure and fire-safe box. These types of services would require little additional overhead or labor hours, although additional security personnel might be needed. Current law limits the Postal Service’s ability to offer services that are considered non-postal and in the past, some industries have resisted Postal Service’s efforts to enter into new business opportunities. However, as the Postal Service faces ongoing financial challenges and continued resistance to consolidation plans, is it time to consider new ways to use its infrastructure? Should the Postal Service be allowed to use its facilities to offer non-traditional services, like self-storage units and safety-deposit boxes? What offerings would you like to see? Do we need to rethink the infrastructure or simply allow the Postal Service to consolidate to match resources to workload?

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