June 29, 2016

Postal service.

The Government of Canada is conducting an independent review of Canada Post to ensure Canadians receive quality postal services at a reasonable price.

For the past few weeks, Canadians have had the chance to answer a few questions of the week to help inform the review. Unsurprisingly, I submitted quite a few answers. For posterity’s sake, I’m saving them here. I began each answer with a preamble (below) and then proceeded to answer the individual questions.

Canada Post has long played an important and fond place in my life. As someone whose primary form of social correspondence is through the post, rather than email or some social network, the reliability of Canada Post is something that is something that I think about, and question, regularly. The availability of a nationwide postal network, particularly one that works as well as Canada Post most of the time, is not something I take for granted.

My love affair with postal correspondence began over 20 years ago, when I was a teenager, and when more and more people were moving social interaction to spaces mediated through a screen. It was then I discovered my love for paper, for print, for design, for the tactile feeling of ink — subtle, barely noticeable but still there, hovering on top of the fine fibres of the paper — underneath my fingers both when reading and writing a letter. These days, I send somewhere between 30-40 letters and cards by post every month; on a good month, like the last one (May 2016), I sometimes exceed over 100 letters put into my local red mailbox.

How do you view door-to-door mail delivery and why (a necessity, nice to have, unnecessary)?

We currently have door-to-door mail service, and there is an immense amount of joy that comes with checking the postbox at the end of the day and discovering a small, hand-addressed envelope inside. This is what I really love most about our current Canada Post mail delivery service: it is about unexpected happiness, about discovery, about exploration. Door-to-door service brings with it a sensation of anticipation, of never knowing what you will find in your postbox and always having the hope that it will contain messages from friends and loved ones.

I understand the fiscal reality of community mailboxes, and will understand the necessity to move to that model if we must, in our neighbourhood. What will be lost, however, in that transition, is that unexpected joy, that anticipation. Checking a community mailbox must be planned, done as a task; checking the postbox at the front door is reflexive, and leads to surprise.

What matters most to you when using Canada Post services (speed, cost, reliability, frequency)?

When dealing with a high volume of postal correspondence, it is clear that the most pressing matter is that of reliability. Even a 5% failure rate of delivery results in dozens of lost opportunities to be in touch, to connect with those we love. Speed is perhaps a more pressing issue when it comes to parcel delivery, but for simple, daily correspondence, it is less important how long it takes for a letter to arrive, and more important that it actually does arrive.

Baseball players are used to a low success rate: reaching base a third of their plate appearances is considered exceptional. This is not true of the postal service. When pours their heart and soul into a letter, the saddest thing would be for that letter to disappear into the ether, never to be received, never to be read, never to be appreciated, never to be loved.

How often do you use Canada Post services to receive and pay your bills, send letters or gifts, or receive online orders?

Aside from the approximately 400 letters I send to friends, family, and acquaintances every year, I also send about 15-20 parcels. In most cases, I visit a post office once a week in order to drop off my lettermail, send parcels, and buy new stamps. When online shopping, where the option to receive goods via Canada Post or USPS exists, I always opt for that choice; sadly, in many cases, that option is either not available or not cost-effective.

With increased use of social media and online services, how has your use of Canada Post changed?

The common refrain that online services and social media is hurting the postal service seems like an unfair dichotomy. For several decades now, we have had ways to reach each other outside the postal service; still, the mail gets delivered and stays strong. The content of our mail, however, has changed.

Whereas before we exchanged personal correspondence (many of us still do!) via post, these days, that sphere of connection has moved to instant- and always-on web services that remove the asynchronous nature of traditional mail. Now, the post is still used, but mostly for the delivery of goods, rather than correspondence. In this case, social media and online services have not lessened the need for Canada Post, but instead changed its nature and role.

I still wait for my letter-carrier to bring me news from friends, but know that I may in the minority. However, everyone I know still talks about waiting for the delivery person to bring them the wonderful things they have ordered or shipped; Canada Post’s competition is not social media, but other shipping companies. Those of us that use the postal service for personal correspondence depend on the success of Canada Post in the shipping arena in order to support (effectively, subsidize), our epistolary habits.

How can Canada Post’s efficiency be improved within its framework of self-sustainability?

At its core, many of the issues plaguing Canada Post was the over-reliance on third-class mail and the extreme subsidies provided to those that use the third-class mail service over those that are dependent on first-class mail service. Currently, the higher costs of delivering mail are passed on to the (lower volume) first-class customer, while third-class customers have an incentive to produce a higher volume of unwanted mail due to the extremely low cost involved in sending out what is effectively postal spam. When the whole system is created to cater to the third-class mail customer, efficiency for the first-class mail customer suffers, and revenues drop because of the lack of interest in the subsidizer to pay for the services of the subsidized.

If Canada Post wants to become more efficient while also more self-sustainable, it must reduce its reliance on third-class mail (which is already not financially viable) and in fact make it harder to send this bulk mail and prioritize the parcel-delivery service that is the only growing vector of delivery in the first-class mail framework. Increasing costs for third-class mail will reduce the amount of bulk mail sent, but will also reduce the amount of resources necessary to sort, process, and deliver that bulk mail; those resources can then be spent making the first-class mail service, especially the parcel delivery service, more effective, efficient, and competitive.

Creating a competitive parcel-mail service that can be trusted will inherently increase the number of first-class mail customers, who are already used to shouldering the financial burden of postal subsidies, and ensure a more viable, and sustainable revenue stream for Canada Post in the future.

My thanks go to Canada Post for their incredible efforts in maintaining and sustaining a service that brings so much joy to people across the country.