Although Baltimore's record for on-time mail delivery was the worst in the nation this summer, a Sun mailing test shows there's a 90 percent chance that a letter you drop in the box today will get there tomorrow.
All but 10 percent of the 570 letters deposited in mailboxes around the metropolitan area Oct. 18 were delivered the next day. Most of the remainder were delivered on the second day.
With the exception of one letter that has yet to be delivered, the rest of the mail arrived within a week.
The test performance was close to the U.S. Postal Service's goal of 95 percent next-day delivery in the metropolitan area, and well above the dismal 66 percent record that made Baltimore's mail delivery the worst in the nation in a summer survey by Price Waterhouse.
Delivery of letters mailed from Baltimore and Howard counties exceeded the 95 percent next-day standard, with Anne Arundel County close at 94 percent. There was a considerable drop after that, with Baltimore City and Harford County in the mid-80 percent range and Carroll County at 76 percent.
"The results are very gratifying," said Richard W. Rudez, the Postal Service's district manager for customer service and sales, who said the Baltimore office has hired workers and put more trucks on the street in the past few months.
"These improvements did not happen in a vacuum. We are bound and determined to show the public that [the summer results were] a one-time occurrence and wouldn't happen again."
To see how well the system works, The Sun mailed 570 first-class letters from 38 mailboxes in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford counties. The recipients were business and residential addresses in every metropolitan jurisdiction. The envelopes were numbered, and the mail was logged as it arrived.
In a study conducted for the Postal Service between May 28 and Sept. 16, the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse tracked 3,500 letters mailed locally and found that barely two-thirds got to their destinations on time. That was the worst record in the nation.
Although The Sun's test was on a smaller scale, it was designed to gain a fair represention of how the mail moved in the area on one day.
Since the Price Waterhouse survey results were released Oct. 1, the Postal Service here has been feeling the pressure to improve.
Mr. Rudez said that by the end of November, the Postal Service will have hired 400 new employees, including 231 new carriers. It is also installing "Baltimore Only" mailboxes and implementing new technology that can read previously illegible addresses.
More trucks to haul mail from outlying areas to the main post office at 900 E. Fayette St. in Baltimore will be put into service soon, Mr. Rudez said. Some of the areas targeted are: Ellicott City and Columbia in Howard; Glen Burnie and Annapolis in Anne Arundel, and Lutherville and Cockeysville in Baltimore County, he said.
Despite the Postal Service's efforts, the mailing test found some trouble spots. Thirty-six of the letters arrived between the second and seventh days. And mail from two boxes was not collected on the 18th, although it was deposited well before the last posted pickup.
"I can't really explain why," Mr. Rudez said. "There are so many variables involved. We handle 5.6 million pieces of mail a day."
The test showed that mail in the counties farthest from Baltimore -- Carroll and Harford -- moved more slowly than mail in the other jurisdictions.
"The service in the whole area should be the same," Mr. Rudez said. "Being remote just means that you put more trucks out there so the mail can get into the city."
Among The Sun's findings:
* By a slight margin, Howard County had the best overall record. Nearly 99 percent of the letters mailed from Howard got to their destinations overnight, and the rest were delivered by the second day. Nearly 90 percent of the letters mailed to Howard addresses arrived on time. However, mail from one Howard address to another did not move as quickly as mail within the other counties.
* Only 76 percent of the mail from Carroll County arrived the next day, with the remainder spread out over the next six days; only 87 percent of the mail from Harford County arrived overnight.
* Letters from Carroll County to Harford County were delayed the longest, but letters from Harford to Carroll all arrived the next day.
* One letter mailed at the Joppatowne Post Office in Harford County to a residential address in Glen Burnie never arrived.
* At least some of the mail deposited in 18 of the 38 mailboxes took longer than one day to arrive.
* Two mailboxes, one at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street in East Baltimore and one at the Carrollton Center Mall in Eldersburg, were apparently forgotten spots Oct. 18. Mail deposited in those boxes well before the final posted pickup was not collected that day.
* The worst place to mail from Oct. 18 was the Joppatowne Post Office in Harford County. Of 15 letters deposited, nine took longer than one day to arrive.