For many rural residents, mail is a lifeline, providing connections with government, commerce, and each other. The local post office offers a community a sense of identity as well as a retail hub that serves a central role, even as rural populations continue to decline. It’s not just an American thing: post offices function similarly in rural communities around the globe.

For many international posts, rural networks may lose money. How they’ve dealt with that can provide lessons for the U.S. Postal Service.

The OIG’s Research and Insights Solution Center (RISC) wanted to find out more about changes other posts have made to improve the financial viability of their rural post office networks. RISC examined six countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

As RISC's white paper reports, initial research found that the structure of each country’s universal service obligation (USO) plays a role in the number of rural post offices it has. Most USOs examined specify the maximum distance a person should travel to any post office as well as the minimum number of post offices nationally. The USO for the Postal Service doesn’t define or address either metric. In addition, posts in the U.K. and France receive subsidies for their retail networks, whereas USPS currently receives none.

To reduce the costs of rural networks, the international posts have tried a variety of means, including outsourcing retail outlets to third-party businesses, optimizing their retail networks, and limiting hours. They have also explored other ideas the Postal Service could consider:

  • Provide space to other government agencies;
  • Sell retail products;
  • Provide in-person digital identity verification;
  • Provide financial services or telecommunications services; and
  • Switch to mobile post offices.

Are there other ideas the Postal Service could explore to offset costs of rural post offices?

Comments (5)

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  • anon

    On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver's YouTube video he spoke about saving the USPS. Ahmed Amine Ramdani commented, "USPS: a suggestion for a side gig. Print out and sell "Save the Mail!" postcards where citizens can write in the back why they want/need their postal service! Imagine the face the congressfolk will make when they see that avalanche! And make them look like ballots, to emphasize the point." I love this idea and I think with a little advertising you could make money. This is something we can all do from our homes, to try and get our government to provide the USPS with much needed support. If you tell the Last Week Tonight people, or any comical news people on YouTube, you will almost certainly get free advertising.

    May 22, 2020
  • anon

    I lived in Japan, which has expensive but outstanding mail delivery. The post office in Japan has a robust banking service which is used much in the same way as a credit union. Japanese mail delivery is speedy and reliable and, like the USPS, has offices in tiny villages and small hamlets as well as big city branches. I was amazed when 2 postal workers showed up at my apartment because they had erred (they said) in accepting my improperly filled out postal money order and they wanted to return it to me for correction. Not surprisingly, everyone in Japan trusts the post office! I am trying to mount a campaign to support the USPS. All the best.

    May 17, 2020
  • anon

    Postplan was a disaster, and even based on one of your own audits we did not capture the supposed $500 million savings that was expected. We saved only $110 million, and even that figure could not be verified completely. The best way to preserve the smallest offices is to shift more of the workload to these offices from the big offices. Big offices have long lines, which deter people from entering our facilities and push them to go to either our competitors or pay their bills online. For example, why couldn't more of these small office process passports? There is usually a month long wait to get an appointment at many of the large offices. By doing this, we can capture more revenue, and increase the productivity of the clerks at the small offices. How about shifting more delivery points to small offices as a form of delivery conversion? Have people who are getting street delivery within a specified distance of a small office pick their mail up at the small office through a no fee PO Box, but use their street address instead of a PO Box number. Considering both the fact that delivering to a curbside box is much more expensive per delivery point versus a post office box, and the fact that many people are already going that far in some cases to pick up mail out of a cluster box unit we would be saving millions of dollars on delivery costs. Several years ago, I calculated the savings in delivery expense at my old office (a former level 11 office) using the numbers from your 2007 study, and just in that area alone we would be saving $15k a year. Now multiply that over thousands or a few million delivery points, and you are talking some big savings. Another thing- many people don't even know these offices exist. There is a small 4 hour RMPO not far from me that does not have any signage indicating that it is a post office. If people do not even know it is there, they are not going to go there. Revenue-When people ship out prepaid parcels, the systems are defaulting the shipped from zip code to the one indicated on the return address. When that happens, the revenue is allocated to the return address office, and not the actual office that the package is accepted. Because of this, you are not getting an accurate picture of the workload and revenue of the small offices. They may appear to be less productive than they really are. Allow customers to pick up accountables and packages at the small offices that normally receive their mail from another office. I have people coming in to my offices all the time with a 3849 for the delivery office 5-7 miles away. If they can pick up the mail piece at their closest office, that will make the clerk at the small office more productive, and can help decrease wait times for lines at the large offices, a win-win all around. It is also better customer service, as they will not wait as long, and it is more convenient for them. Just a few examples, there are plenty of others. But the smallest post offices are the biggest asset to the USPS.

    Apr 07, 2020
  • anon

    Really! We need a group of people to run around the world studying rural POs I was led to this page by another thinking I might get some help because my local PO and USPS customer care is a joke. I live in a rural small town in SE Pa. and can't get any answers as to why I have to pay $92 a year when they won't deliver mail to my address when most Americans get their mail free, especially when their own manual (508 sub section 452) says I should. So RISC don't worry about what Canada or Australia is doing. Fix this country's POs

    Mar 31, 2020
  • anon

    I have alot of ideas

    Mar 30, 2020

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