Delivering the mail

October 25, 1994

Baltimore's postal service has nowhere to go but up, and it has some strong reasons why it should do so.

This region's on-time delivery record last spring and summer slipped from bad to worse, leaving the metropolitan area with the poorest record in the country for delivering first-class mail. But in explaining why it won't happen again, local postal officials pointed to several factors that spell improvement. Now local businesses and residents have good reason to hold them to their prediction.

Postal officials blamed the bad performance in the spring on snags in a new high-tech sorting system that took a while to work efficiently, combined with an increase in mail volume that overwhelmed a thinly stretched staff. At the same time, some local officials were attending a four-day training and morale-boosting course at a Florida resort. If this extra training leads to improved service in the next national survey, the team-work exercises will have paid off. But if service doesn't get better, the participants will have a lot more explaining to do.

The sophisticated sorting system is now said to be working well, with overnight delivery of first-class mail considerably improved. Several hundred more letter carriers and clerks are being added, reducing the amount of overtime imposed on harried workers.

There are few public services more vital to a community. Mortgage and utility payments must arrive on time; orders for new merchandise and inquiries about services are the lifeblood of many businesses. Increasingly these documents are traveling over wires, or by private delivery services, rather than in envelopes with postage stamps on them. There is hardly a business that does not have a fax machine these days, and using it has become as much a reflex as typing an envelope was just a few years ago.

The more electronic transmission and private companies eat into the postal service's prime mission, delivery of first class mail, the less it will be able to sustain its other operations. Baltimore postal officials now have what they said they lacked when service slipped. Their customers have every reason to expect to get what they lacked last spring: satisfactory service.

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