A few weeks ago, a resident of Barkwood Road called to say she was thrilled her mail service had improved after an article ran in the Anne Arundel County Sun about problems she and her neighbors were having.
For the past three years, service on the small street in Glen Burnie had gotten progressively worse, residents said, and their complaints to the Glen Burnie Post Office had gone unheeded.
Residents complained that when it snowed, they'd get no mail delivery. They claimed the mail was delivered to the wrong houses so often that they had worked out their own system to exchange mis-deliveredletters.
Another problem was that the mail was delivered so late in the evening that most residents were already home from work beforeit arrived. Residents said if a car was parked in front of, or even near, a mail box, the carrier often would skip the house rather than get out of the truck and walk around the car.
After the story ran,however, most of the problems were resolved, the caller said.
"Ifyou watch the mailman as he goes down the road, it's obvious he's being more careful," she said.
Our caller also reported the mail nowwas arriving consistently between noon and 1 p.m. and fewer mis-deliveries were being reported by her neighbors.
Although these recentimprovements are to be commended, there are still a couple of nagging questions. Why did it take a newspaper story to get results? If thepost office had the ability to improve service, why didn't it do so after the first citizen complaint?
And maybe even more importantly: Did the substandard service on Barkwood and surrounding roads simply get shifted elsewhere?
Residents on Barkwood Road said they noticed a deterioration of service when they ceased to have a regular mail carrier three years ago. Since then, their route had been deliveredby numerous carriers, sometimes several different people in the sameweek, they said.
According to Chris Kirby, vice president of local 4422 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, several factors have created a situation in which it's difficult, if not impossible, for all areas to get consistent and reliable service.
The Glen Burnie office, for example, is understaffed, he said, and the Postal Service has relied increasingly on "casual employees" -- not full-timemail carriers, but contract employees brought in to help get the mail out.
Kirby said not only are there not enough full-time carriersto cover all routes, but routes have gotten too long for a single carrier to complete during daylight, especially in the winter. Casual employees are often unfamiliar with their routes, which means they take longer to deliver the mail, compounding the problem.
A Post Office rule that mail cannot be delivered after dark means carriers oftencome back with unfinished routes, he said. And in the morning, the mail often arrives from Baltimore late, causing all carriers to get a late start.
Certainly it's not news that the U.S. Postal Service is facing numerous difficulties in keeping up with the volume of mail in an efficient fashion. And certainly, the problems experienced by residents of Barkwood Road and other areas in Glen Burnie aren't unique.
But it also seems clear that service in some neighborhoods has gotten so bad that residents should not tolerate it anymore, regardless of the internal problems the U.S. Postal Service is struggling with.
It seems inconceivable that people on one street should get mail delivery by a regular carrier in a consistent and efficient fashion, while residents one or two streets away get delivery by different people weekly, if not daily, at different times of the day and frequently get their mail delivered to the wrong houses.
If the routes are too long, they should be made shorter. If casual employees are unfamiliar with their routes, efforts should be made to keep them on the same routes for longer periods or provide additional training. And ifmail is coming in from Baltimore late, holding up all the carriers, steps should be taken to resolve that problem.
Since everyone paysthe same 29 cents to mail a letter, they are entitled to service that is at least in the same general league as in surrounding neighborhoods.
It's time for the Postal Service to face up to the fact that people are not getting what they pay for and to stop making excuses.
As Kirby said, "Service is all we have to sell." And right now, insome communities, that service doesn't seem worth the 29-cent piece of paper it's printed on.
POINTS TO PONDER
A few items of possibleinterest while I decide whether I should raise some extra cash by pawning my luge before the next Winter Games:
* After serving as a lance corporal in the Marine Corps and participating in Operation Desert Storm, Anne Arundel Community College lacrosse midfielder George Ash has received his share of kidding during practices this year.