- How much access to retail services should be included in the Postal Service's universal service obligation? Answered below
- What restrictions should the Postal Service face in meeting its obligation to provide retail access? (Answered in a subsequent Post)
Today Ashflat, a town of 1,082 is the county seat of Sharp County. The town is also a regional commercial center with a Walmart.
The question about what level of access to retail services, would meet the Postal Service's Universal Service obligation leads to the two questions at the top of the post that I will present the available options in turn.
(a)....It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.Title 29 403. General duties
(b) The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities.
(b) It shall be the responsibility of the Postal Service—What is clear is Congress's intent, "effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities." What is less clear how the Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission should balance the need for effective service and the restriction on closing post offices.
(3 ) to establish and maintain postal facilities of such character and in such locations, that postal patrons throughout the Nation will, consistent with reasonable economies of postal operations, have ready access to essential postal services.
Solutions from Other National Posts
Access - Maintain mail lodgement [access] points at 4,000 retail outlets (2,500 in rural and remote areas).
Retail outlets to be located so that:Canada Post
- in metropolitan areas at least 90 per cent of residences are within 2.5 km [1.55 miles] of an outlet
- in non-metropolitan areas at least 85 per cent of residences are within 7.5 [4.65 miles] km of an outlet.
The Canada Post Charter has three provisions that describe access.
- Canada Post will provide an extensive network for accessing postal services that includes retail postal outlets, stamp shops and street letterboxes, as well as access to information and customer service through the Canada Post's website and call centres.
- Canada Post will provide retail postal outlets, including both corporate post offices and private dealer operated outlets which are conveniently located and operated, so that:
- 98 percent of consumers will have a postal outlet within 15 km[9.3 miles];
- 88 percent of consumers will have a postal outlet within 5 km[3.1 miles]; and
- 78 percent of consumers will have a postal outlet within 2.5 km [1.55 miles].
- The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained. Situations affecting Canada Post personnel (e.g., retirement, illness, death, etc.) or Canada Post infrastructure (e.g., fire or termination of lease, etc.) may, nevertheless, affect the ongoing operation of a post office.
La Poste is required to provide retail access to ensure that:
- 99% of the national population and at least 95% of the population within each department [state] is less than 10 km [6.2 miles] from a post office branch
- In addition, every community over 10,000 should have one post office branch per 20,000 inhabitants.
Providing effective access needs a better definition than what is current law. Countries like Australia and Canada with rural areas as rural any part of the United States provide retail services in their most remote areas with rules that are logical. Canada Post face greater limits as it serves numerous arctic and sub-arctic communities and significant political pressure to plant the flag of the government of Canada in all provinces given that country's challenge of dealing with a long-standing separatist movement when the charter was written.
No National Postal operator has an obligation relating to access that goes beyond defining how far an outlet may be from any citizen. They have not attempted to put into the service charter or universal service obligation any measure of effectiveness that relates to how easy it is to use the service at a particular access point. (This could be important as an access point may be theoretically accessible based on the distance to citizens but effectively not be accessible if it is not open more than a few hours a day.)
Current legislative proposals before Congress either provide no effective guidance for defining effective access or set that guidance at a level that is significantly higher than countries with both large urban centers and vast territories of sparsely populated territory have chosen. In addition, the financial problems of the Postal Service cannot wait a year or more to implement a more rational definition of access. Congress would be wise to choose an effective access definition closer to what Canada or Australia has than what is now on the table.