Post office wants boxes at curbside

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When Drew Shipman moved six blocks into his home on Washington Street in Cape Girardeau, he assumed his mail would follow.

But not long after his November arrival, Shipman, 24, was surprised to find that all his letters and bills were being held at the post office on nearby Frederick Street.

Shipman said postal officials told him he could only pick up his mail one time until he set up a new, mounted curbside mailbox to replace the old one at his front door.

Shipman is one of the 15 to 20 percent of all city residents who do not have a curbside box. Like Shipman, most of them live in older sections of the city where mailboxes or delivery slots have always been at the doorstep.

About two years ago, the postal service decided the best way to streamline deliveries was to make those boxes more accessible. To do this, officials required all new residents of homes without curbside boxes to install them at their own expense.

The rule was simple: no box, no mail.

"All we're asking is to have the mailbox moved down to the street level next to the sidewalk where the carrier can simply move straight down the sidewalk," said manager of customer services Dan Strauss, adding that that simple move can extend the careers of carriers who don't have to navigate as many steps.

It's also safer. There was only one dog attack of a postal carrier in 2006 compared with an average of three to five dog bites 10 years ago, Strauss said.

Though the move provides a safer environment for carriers, Strauss said, it also helps the bottom line.

"Carriers can deliver a lot more when they're not walking up and down walkways and onto wet porches," he said.

A carrier delivering to a neighborhood with both curbside and door-side boxes can only reach about 350 addresses in one day. A carrier on a strictly curbside route can deliver mail to 600 addresses in a day.

This, say postal officials, is increasingly important to keep the cost of stamps down as fuel prices rise and new customers come online.

"If we're saving money, we're saving our customers money," said spokesman Richard Watkins of the Mid-America Postal District in Kansas City. "A lot of people don't realize we're not tax-supported and all the money we get is through our daily operations."

Watkins said the U.S. Postal Service adds 2 million new delivery addresses each year without a significant increase in funding. In 2006, the postal service announced its revenue grew by 4 percent but expenses rose by 4.9 percent.

None of this makes Shipman feel better. He has to spend $42 to buy a new mailbox and post from a hardware store.

Last week, Shipman contacted Missouri One Call System to determine whether it was safe to dig and install a post at his curbside. The agency informed him Ameren has buried gas lines there and that he would need to find a different location. He found a spot but is not happy with it. Shipman said he would much rather have the box by his door than out near the street where it could fall prey to thieves or vandals.

"The bars are right there and the college is right there. I kind of fear identity theft and the mailbox is going to get beer bottles smashed in," he said.

He believes the rule puts an unfair burden on new homeowners.

"A lot of people feel like you're picking out a select group of people -- new homeowners -- and they're having an undue hardship that everybody else isn't," he said.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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