90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What The US Can Learn From Canada Ending Door-To-Door Mail Delivery

Canadian Stamps on mail. (Flооd/Flickr)

Canada post is replacing door-to-door service with community mail boxes. (Flооd/Flickr)

The financially-strapped Canada Post is phasing out home mail delivery over the next five years, replacing the door-to-door service with community mail boxes in central locations.

Canada Post will also cut 6,000 to 8,000 jobs in the postal industry, and raise the price of the postage stamp by 22 cents.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with CBC reporter Rosemary Barton about the shift in Canada, and then talks with Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe about what the U.S. can learn from its northern neighbor.

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

Canadians are coming to terms with an issue that, so far, Americans have avoided: What to do with a postal service that is financially strapped? Canada Post announced last week it is ending home mail delivery. It will replace door-to-door service with community mailboxes over the next five years. It will also raise the price of a stamp by 30 percent.

For more, we're joined from Ottawa by CBC national reporter Rosemary Barton. Rosemary, welcome.

ROSEMARY BARTON: Hi.

HOBSON: Well, what's pushing Canada to do this, first of all, not just end home delivery, but increase the cost of postage so dramatically?

BARTON: It's because Canada Post has a money problem, quite simply. It was headed toward an annual $1 billion operating loss by 2020. People aren't using mail as much. And it needed to come up with a solution to save itself. So the thing that is going to make the most savings is stopping this door-to-door delivery.

Most people will transition now to those big super mailboxes that you have at the end of a few streets, and they are also going to, as you've said, raise the price of stamps. So they - if you want to buy a single stamp in Canada now, it's going to cost you a whole dollar.

HOBSON: And how are people reacting to that idea, to actually have to go in to a communal area and get your mail instead of having it delivered to the door?

BARTON: First of all, this is actually the way lots of Canadians already get their mail. This is how two-thirds of Canadians get their mail. Only five million Canadian households are still getting their mail door-to-door. I'm one of them.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTON: And there is a lot of nostalgia - even on my part, as well - about what will happen when you don't have a letter carrier coming to your door and putting mail in your little mailbox, your mail slot anymore. A lot of people are feeling sort of sad about that, and wondering why Canada Post couldn't come up with some sort of other solution.

But, honestly, the other solutions that were on the table were much more drastic: cutting back on mail radically, delivering two or three times a week only. This way, they think that they're helping people. You can still get your mail every day. You just won't get it at your door.

HOBSON: Well, you say nostalgia, but there are some people who actually can't get to these centers: the elderly and the disabled, for example. What are they saying? And how are they dealing with it if there are already Canadians who don't get their mail delivered to the door?

BARTON: Well, Canada Post says, listen, most people already do this. And so people that have disabilities already have this worked out. So we are looking at more people that are going to have to find solutions. They do have to do certain things to help people. So those community mailboxes have to be in secure locations. They have to be well-lit. They have to be accessible for everybody.

And if there are particular issues - like, for instance, you're visually impaired - Canada Post can make exceptions to you. But, ultimately, they're saying: We have a serious money problem. And most of it comes from labor, right? So that's why they're trying to make this move. If they can stop delivering door-to-door, it means that they can also get rid of between six to 8,000 jobs.

HOBSON: Although they won't be laying anybody off right now, right? It's going to be sort of attrition over the - over time, people will leave.

BARTON: Yeah. That's right. They've got 15,000 workers set to retire in the next five years. Most of them - the average age at Canada Post is 48. So that's how they're going to get rid of these things. But they are extremely well-paid jobs with big, fat pensions attached. And so the union is already up in arms, because they'd like to keep the positions, obviously, and they say that people should stand up and fight to keep their mail coming to their doors.

HOBSON: Rosemary, there are probably Americans listening to this right now, saying don't you dare even think about doing that to us here in the U.S. Of course, the U.S. Postal Service is in a lot of trouble, financially. But Canada Post is framing this as innovative.

BARTON: Well, they're saying we have to adapt, right? And there is a reality. Between 2006 and 2012, Canada Post delivered one billion fewer pieces of mail. And, in fact, the head of Canada Post the other day said the biggest decline coincided almost exactly with the arrival of the iPad. So if you're not using mail, Canada Post says: Why should we provide that service to the same extent?

Where they do see an increase is in packages. People are shopping online a lot more with those same iPads and tablets. So they can boost their services in terms of getting packages to people's doors. But if we're not using mail, this is really about supply and demand, and they need to change the way they do business in order to make sense.

HOBSON: Well - and soon, they may be competing with Amazon drones for the package delivery, as well.

BARTON: Yeah. That's right. I don't think we can afford those in Canada.

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: Rosemary Barton, national reporter for the CBC, joining us from Ottawa. Thanks so much.

BARTON: Thanks, Jeremy.

HOBSON: So, would something like the Canada plan work in the U.S.? For more on that, we're joined from Washington by Washington Post congressional reporter Ed O'Keefe. Ed, do you think it would work?

ED O'KEEFE: Well, it might someday. And certainly, some of those proposals are under consideration. Things in Canada sound a lot better than they do in the United States for the postal service here, which, of course, just had another $5 billion in losses during its fiscal 2013 year because of continuing declines in first-class mail and other things, but seems to have been shored up a bit in recent years by an increase in package delivery. That can be thanks to online retailers like Amazon.com and others who are driving a lot of online sales. And, of course, those things have to be delivered.

HOBSON: Well, and explain, because the Postal Service is a little bit different than Canada Post. It's got a mandate to fulfill a public service, but it's also supposed to be a self-sustaining business, right?

O'KEEFE: That's right. Changes that were made in the 1970s basically require it to act like a business, but sort of remain under the purview of the U.S. government, because it's in the U.S. Constitution that Congress has to mandate the delivery of mail. So they continue to do that. The Postal Service would like to have, let's say, fewer than 400 - or, sorry, 535 members of its board of directors, as some people like to say - all the members of Congress - meddling in their affairs. But they continue to face congressional scrutiny, and for years, have been waiting for some changes that so far, at least, haven't been enacted.

HOBSON: One of them being ending Saturday delivery, and implementing that has been delayed by the 435 people in Congress, as you say. Why is that? Why is Congress so opposed to making changes to shore up the Postal Service?

O'KEEFE: Well, you know, there's polling that suggested a majority of Americans are OK with ending Saturday mail delivery. But Congress hasn't been able to do it, not so much because of that, but because there are all sorts of other things tied to fixing the Postal Service in the United States, the biggest one being that there are concerns about how the Postal Service basically pays for the retirement accounts, if you will, of its workers, of its current and its former workers. There's a very complicated formula that's used that basically requires the Postal Service to prefund the future retirement costs of its current workers. They're paying well in advance.

But the problem is, with all of their declining revenue and their inability really to continue delivering the mail right now, they're sort of strangled by that requirement. And so they've been pushing to get that changed, or at least reformulate it, and, at the same time, get some more flexibility, be able to raise prices beyond the rate of inflation, potentially end Saturday mail delivery, and maybe one day, like Canada, cut back even a few weekdays. And, yes, put some more of cluster boxes, as they're called, in newer communities, new residential communities that would require people to come to one central location to pick up their mail. That does happen in some communities of the United States, but much less frequently as is going on up in Canada.

HOBSON: Ed O'Keefe, congressional reporter for The Washington Post, thanks so much for joining us.

O'KEEFE: Great to be with you.

HOBSON: And if you've got thoughts on this, you can go to our website, hereandnow.org. Or if you want to send us an old-fashioned letter, you can do so. We are at HERE AND NOW, 890 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215. You're going to have to spend your own 46 cents on the stamp. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Mark Schumaker

    The report on the Postal Service only mentioned as an afterthought the crippling $5 billion payment that the US Postal Service must make each year to Prefund retiree Healthcare. While it is true that first class mail volume has been declining, and the innovations in parcels and standard business class mail has actually created a $600 million profit for FY2013. The current business model is now beginning to work very well and cutting Saturday delivery or neighbourhood Street delivery are unnecessary steps.

  • Don Squier

    When I hear solutions for the U.S. mail woes, I have never
    heard the suggestion to end subsidies for junk mail deliveries. I suppose these subsidies also extend to business
    that bill me monthly. In most every case
    the bills are stuffed with several pages of extraneous advertisements that are
    immediately discarded. Those who bill me
    should be charged postage by weight, this would soon end the waste in materials
    and energy required to move this stuff around.
    Come on Tea Party, end these corporate entitlements! (YEA RIGHT).

    • bigtime

      good points you made , delivering them circulars every week , oversized, cannot go through automation machines, must be hand sorted and they take more time to case and deliver. as for the tea party, never so much democratic political mail this year. pennies to mail this stuff, and the post office treats it like express mail. also usps is too top heavy , many people looking and telling you what to do. only been doing this for 25 years I think I got it down by now.

    • Mark Fallon

      Postage is charged by weight. The companies who send you bills use formulae that calculates what inserts to include without going up to the next ounce. And there are no subsidies for Fist Class Mail, but there are worksharing discounts if the mailer prepares the mail in a way that minimizes the amount of work required by the USPS. Whether those discounts are too steep is another question.

  • Duxford

    Us listen to the level-headed Canadians?! LOL! They have clean air and universal healthcare and better schools – what the hell do they know.

  • Jim Roach

    “Financially strapped”, Congress did it themselves, they wanted a cash cow. But they got too greedy. Follow the money. Who wants the postal service dead? It’s not that tough to figure out. You don’t prefund 75 years in 10. It makes no sense. Where’s the pile of cash? Oh, they already spent it.

  • egillies

    the financial rationale behind this decision is flawed: canada post is not financially strapped. for 16 of the past 17 years it made a profit, except in 2011 when there was a lockout and a pay equity settlement. mail delivery is down, but package delivery has increased exponentially.

  • dolemite

    So, how does Grandma Smith get to her mailbox with a walker in 6 inches of snow? Idiots!

  • 1234heythere5
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 16 Comment

ER Doctor Looks Back A Year After Marathon Bombing

Dr. Ron Medzon, an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center, recalls treating victims injured in the bombing.

April 16 32 Comments

Tensions Build In San Francisco Amid Tech Boom

As San Francisco experiences a historic economic boom, some activists say not all city residents are reaping the benefits.

April 15 8 Comments

4 Lamb Recipes, Plus Lamb Cooking Tips

With the weather getting warmer, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is thinking lamb. She shares recipes for Middle Eastern-style lamb meatballs and more.

April 15 14 Comments

The Problem With U.S. Tax Policies

Tax expert David Cay Johnston says it's easy to fool the IRS, but there's one catch: "you have to be rich." He says outdated tax policies are hurting the economy.