Archive for Saturday, August 1, 1998


August 1, 1998


The U.S. Postal Service has spent the last decade encouraging homeowners with door delivery to get their mailboxes off the porch.

The black mailbox on Missouri south of 23rd is sturdy, with a wooden post sunk deep into the lawn next to the street.

It's roomy, able to accommodate any number of magazines.

And it's lonely.

Everyone else on the block gets their mail delivered to boxes hung near their doors.

The situation is symptomatic of a Postal Service in transition, a transition taking place in stops and starts.

Any new housing developments, however pricey, are getting group boxes with several homeowners picking up their mail in the same location.

But older parts of the city have become an amalgamation of mailbox types. A rural box might be in the yard next to a house with doorside delivery next to a house with a box mounted on the edge of the porch, reachable from the ground.

The situation gets at the balancing act going on within the post office to stay both cost- and customer conscious.

``In a way we're in the middle,'' said Bill Reynolds, Lawrence postmaster.

On the one hand are the businesses, which send 85 percent of the mail and want to do it cheaply.

On the other are the houses, which cause the most expense where delivery is concerned.

Delivering at the street means fewer rakes, steps and ice patches to trip on; shorter walking or driving distances; and fewer dog bites.

``It does help control our costs,'' Reynolds said. ``There would be a lot of benefit to customers and to the Postal Service both, really, if we had curbside delivery in most areas.''

To facilitate that change, people who buy houses with door delivery are sometimes asked to move their mailboxes off the porch, if not all the way to the street.

The policy has been in place for more than a decade, but its application has been inconsistent.

Letter carrier Terry Johnson is not helping it along too much.

Johnson has delivered mail on his south Lawrence route for six years.

And except for a section of Alabama, which was mostly streetside delivery when he took over the route, he hasn't pushed people away from door delivery.

``My philosophy has always been it's a service to the customer to have him reach out his door and get the mail,'' he said. ``And I'm paid by the hour.''

His stroll down shaded streets makes for a nice change of pace from his commercial and apartment deliveries. The porches he steps on are sturdy, with few if any steps leading to them.

It gives him a chance to say ``Hi'' to the folks on his route.

Delivering strictly from his white, postal-issue truck parked at the curb would mean sacrificing a little of that personal touch, he said.

But not, necessarily, service.

``It depends on what you mean by service,'' he said.

If every mailbox in town was at the curb, Johnson figures he could handle 1,000 deliveries rather than his current 800.

``That would be considered better service by some,'' he said.

Reynolds said other benefits are the added security the locked, group boxes offer. The group boxes also have a place to leave larger packages so the recipients don't have to pick them up at the post office.

Reynolds said the transition is not one being forced too aggressively on anyone.

``We are trying to do this with the least inconvenience to our customers,'' Reynolds said.

But Reynolds said the Postal Service is doing its best to live up to expectations created in 1971. That was the year the post office ceased being a branch of the government and became a ``semi-independent governmental corporation,'' Reynolds said.

What that meant was that the Postal Service was to quit losing so much money.

``We're supposed to break even,'' Reynolds said.

Toward that end, the Lawrence post office has made other concessions to efficiency, installing automated mail sorters and consolidating delivery routes.

It would seem that the Postal Service is following a societal trend. Door delivery may go the way of doctors' house calls, milk men and full service gas pumps.

But in most houses, no one will be around to notice, Johnson said.

``By and large you just don't see people out much,'' he said. ``There's nobody home. Mom and Dad are both out working, and the kids are in day care. They just want to have their mail in the box when they get home.''

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is

Commenting has been disabled for this item.