Will the Post Office Be Stamped Out In 10 Years?

Stamp prices keep going up while service just gets worse

My mission was simple the other day, when I stopped by the post office on South Broad. I needed some stamps. I even had a few crisp dollar bills ready for the automated stamp machine. As I stepped inside, I almost felt bad for all those poor saps standing in line, checking their watches and sighing, waiting for one of two postal workers to mail that care package to their kid in college, or send some legal docs overnight.

Then I looked around for the stamp machines. They were gone. Not empty or out of order — missing. I felt like the crazy guy in a movie. Did my post office turn into Shutter Island? Was I losing my mind?

As it turns out, I’m fine, relatively speaking. But I’m thinking the folks running the USPS should be committed. After joining the queue and waiting 15 minutes, a postal employee told me those convenient machines are a thing of the past. They want more people to buy stamps online, he says. A real shame, too, because one of the most coveted — and well-paid — gigs within the USPS was being the guy who stocked those machines. “That was a hard job to get,” he told me.[SIGNUP]

This summer, the USPS announced that stamp prices would be going up in January, from 44 cents to 46. A two-cent increase might not sound like much. But consider that the cost of mailing a Hallmark card or your PECO bill has increased every year since 2006. Then think about what we’re getting in return as these rates go up.

Threats of eliminating Saturday mail service. A bloated agency that makes the DRPA look like a well-oiled machine. Redundant excess postal centers that literally require an act of Congress to close. The kind of customer service that makes a trip to the post office feel like a day at the DMV. And all of that nonsense about how snow and rain and bad hair days won’t keep your carriers from their appointed rounds? When Philadelphia got walloped with snow this winter, the USPS closed down.

Considering all of the alternatives to the USPS these days, you’d think they would make their simplest services, like buying stamps, even easier. Instead of paying bills the old-fashioned way, you can switch to a paperless system now. Scores of websites offer free e-cards you can send to Aunt Delores for Christmas. Then there’s alternatives like FedEx and UPS. The last time I ordered from Amazon, America’s biggest online retailer, my mailman wasn’t involved; instead, a courier pulled up in an SUV and hand-delivered my stuff.

So what does the USPS do to stay relevant? It takes away stamp machines so you’ll sign up on its website and create the 1,374th case-sensitive password you’ll need to keep track of. My favorite part comes during check out — when you pay shipping and handling, so they can cover the cost of mailing you some lousy stamps you could have picked up on the way home from work.

In its “Action Plan For The Future,” the USPS says the post office of 2020 should be able to “maintain current high levels of service and performance.” Here’s my prediction for the future — if they think the level of service we’re getting in 2010 is high, there won’t be a post office to complain about in 10 years.