USPS Cluster

The following guest article is a submission from Mr. Liberty, spouse of  Lady Liberty 1885 – A.P. Dillon, and was not written by either LadyLiberty1885 – A.P. Dillon or Liberty Speaks.  This is a statement of concern with national ramifications.

USPS Cluster

Recently, a municipality not far from my own received notice from the United States Postal Service that a new residential development of free-standing homes would not be allowed to implement road-side delivery (that is—delivery to the traditional mail box perched near the curb). Rather, the USPS was mandating that all new residential developments would be required to have cluster boxes for the neighborhood. Cluster boxes are already familiar to most people from managed apartment and town home complexes. 

The USPS indicated that the municipality had the right to appeal the decision, but in a rare demonstration of proactive efficiency helpfully included evidence it claimed demonstrated how unsuccessful other municipalities had been with such an appeal. 

As early as January 2013, the USPS indicated its intent to change the nature of home delivery. According to Post and Parcel: “’Where the builder used to have a choice on type of delivery, we’re choosing for them – or at least moving in that direction, said the USPS spokesperson, adding that at present residential property builders were being given the option of cluster boxes or delivery at the roadside. 

Apparently the “present” in the quote above is now past. Builders are not being given options any longer—the USPS will insist that all new residential developments have cluster boxes. Obviously, this has come as an upsetting surprise to many developers and prospective home-buyers. 

The move to change dramatically how home-owner’s get their mail, however, does not seem limited merely to new developments. The USPS has begun to claim the authority to modify methods of delivery for existing delivery addresses. Save the Post Office recounts one incident: 

[O]ne postal manager in St. Louis recently sent a letter to the St. Louis Apartment Association (SLAA) stating the following: The Postal Service has revised the POM [Postal Operations Manual] giving the USPS the autonomy to make changes to current mode of delivery.  The Postal Service is not currently unilaterally changing any current modes of delivery.  But it now has the authority to do so. 

That manager may have it wrong about the POM, but his letter to the apartment association is another example of how the Postal Service is pushing current residences to convert to centralized delivery.  His letter says that the Postal Service will pay for conversion to cluster box units now, but owners who pass up the offer risk having to pay for it themselves later.

The astute reader will note the information implicit in the quote above—the offer by the USPS to pay for the conversion to cluster boxes for only a limited time implies that the organization plans to take no responsibility for maintaining or servicing the boxes and their keys. How many Americans are comfortable with having the security and accessibility of their mail determined by the efficiency of their neighborhood Homeowners Association? How many Americans are comfortable with the USPS creating a de facto requirement that all new residential developments create a Homeowners Association purely for the sake of maintaining neighborhood cluster boxes? 

The Postal Service prompted significant public and Congressional debate with it’s call in 2013 to end mail delivery on Saturdays as a cost-saving measure. The possible end of mail delivery on Saturdays was a relatively small change in the experience of the end-consumer of USPS services. The forced change to cluster boxes is by far a more substantial and potentially costlier change in end-consumer experience, and yet it has had little to no public debate. 

I’m an advocate for postal reform and may well be persuaded of the utility of installing neighborhood cluster boxes for mail delivery. However, such a major change in the experience of everyday customers of the USPS should only occur after an extensive public discussion. 

As the experience of the local municipality near me shows, it appears that the USPS is quietly implementing the cluster box delivery scheme by bullying local planning entities. A cynic might even suggest the USPS is attempting to make the local planning entities appear to be the “bad guys” in order to avoid a protracted national debate and unfavorable public reaction.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist and is currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_
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