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Time has come for five-day delivery
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 3/31/2010 12:00 AM

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In the age of e-mail, e-bills and e-payments, it's understandable that the U.S. Postal Service finds itself considering, again, a reduction to five-day mail delivery.

Periodically over the past two decades, the agency has floated the notion of ending Saturday delivery as a means of cutting expenses in times of mounting bills. Now, with the explosion of electronic communications, the Postal Service is struggling with annual deficits in the billions of dollars and says that if it doesn't do something, the red ink could be $238 billion deep by 2020.

To stem that tide, the agency says eliminating Saturday delivery would save $3.3 billion in 2011 and as much as $5.1 billion a year by the end of the decade.

The proposal leads quickly and naturally to two questions: One, what would be lost through the elimination of Saturday delivery? And two, what's the holdup?

Answering the first is flush with the temptation to resurrect cliched stereotypes about unreliable service and deliveries that fall into just two categories - bills and advertising. But those deliveries are a serious matter. The advertising that travels through the mail remains an important component of commerce in America, and despite the prevalence of electronic communications, the limitations faced by the millions of Americans who cannot afford computers at home are a legitimate concern.

And it must be remembered that the Postal Service delivers much more than just letters and circulars. Americans receive millions of packages every day through the U.S. mail.

But none of these issues are critically threatened by the elimination of Saturday mail delivery. The advertising and business commerce arriving through the mail can certainly adapt to a business workweek and, concerns about availability of computers notwithstanding, it surely must be acknowledged that time sensitivity is not the first consideration of any letter arriving in a traditional home or business mailbox.

Moreover, the Postal Service's proposal doesn't entirely eliminate weekend activities. Local offices would still maintain Saturday hours and mail obviously would continue to be transported.

The union representing letter carriers understandably does not like a plan that would cut its membership by as many as 40,000 workers. But its characterization of five-day delivery as "reckless" demonstrates how far out of touch the organization is with the challenges the postal operation must address to ensure its long-term survival.

To be sure, increased prices of stamps and higher federal subsidies are alternatives to reduced staffing. But in the current economy, these are neither appropriate nor permanent solutions.

All of which leads back to Question 2. The time has come to end Saturday mail delivery, and we should be moving in that direction as assertively as possible.