Get ready for slower mail delivery. It started with letters, and now packages are set to follow suit.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is implementing new standards next month that will extend the expected delivery time for first-class packages. Currently, any first-class package delivered more than three days after it was sent is considered late. However, under the forthcoming standards, packages delivered within four or five days will be considered on time, covering over 30% of these packages.
The changes are part of the USPS’s initiative to rely more on its own ground transportation network instead of air transport. By embracing greater efficiency, the postal service anticipates cost savings through reduced air expenses.
A Breakdown of the Upcoming Changes
On May 1, the changes will primarily affect first-class packages, which predominantly consist of small and lightweight items such as prescription drug orders. Currently, over 20% of these packages have a two-day delivery standard, while nearly 80% have a three-day standard.
Under the new rules, some packages, especially those traveling long distances, will experience delayed deliveries. However, these modifications will not affect approximately 64% of first-class packages, according to the USPS. In fact, a minor 4% will transition to a shorter two-day standard instead of three.
USPS spokesperson Kim Frum informed NPR that these service standard adjustments serve to enhance performance, provide consistent and cost-effective service, and optimize operational efficiency across the networks.
The lengthier delivery standards for packages follow the USPS’s previous decision to slow down the delivery of first-class letters last fall. Originally, packages were supposed to be included in the same shift, but the USPS postponed this change until now, springtime.
During the first quarter of 2022, the USPS recorded an average delivery time of 2.7 days for mail and packages. Following the relaxed standards implemented last fall, first-class mail achieved an almost 90% on-time delivery rate. However, this figure declined to 86.7% in the first quarter of this year.
The Latest Policy Shift at the Postal Service
Over the past two years, the USPS has faced intense debates regarding its mission and goals. This scrutiny intensified after Louis DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General during former President Donald Trump’s administration. DeJoy has faced criticism for his cost-cutting plans. Additionally, it was revealed last summer that DeJoy, a prominent donor to Republican politicians, faced a federal investigation concerning potential campaign finance violations during his tenure as head of New Breed Logistics.
The USPS aims to optimize its ground network utilization, as the average truck only operates at a 40% capacity. By improving this efficiency, the USPS claims it can offer more reliable service unaffected by changing air transport conditions and costs.
The Postal Regulatory Commission, the USPS’s regulator, has consistently expressed concerns about DeJoy’s plans, asserting that they may disproportionately impact customers compared to the bottom line. In a September advisory opinion, the commission acknowledged that package volumes designated for longer delivery times consistently failed to meet goals. It also noted that the USPS appeared to provide better service when relying on its own network.
However, the commission questioned the USPS’s predictions regarding the impact of the new standards. It highlighted that these forecasts were based on data from October 2020, an extraordinary period due to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The regulator also raised concerns about the USPS’s failure to account for another challenge: the shortage of truck drivers. It expressed apprehension about the USPS’s understanding of consumer preferences regarding delivery times, and doubted the accuracy of the service’s estimated cost savings.
At a fundamental level, the commission cast doubts on the USPS’s ability to implement its proposal effectively. It declared, “At present, the Postal Service has not demonstrated that it can achieve reliability, efficiency, and economy in its service standard changes.”
Even if the USPS’s projected cost savings materialize, the commission’s analysis revealed that the proposed changes would have minimal impact on the service’s overall financial condition.
These concerns echo doubts previously raised by the regulator last summer when the USPS initiated delays in first-class letter delivery.
In another parallel to recent service updates, these new delays coincide with rising prices. The USPS intends to raise the cost of a first-class stamp from 58 cents to 60 cents, attributing the increase to inflation and operational expenses. By comparison, at this time last year, the price stood at 55 cents.