Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The shockingly primitive way that the USPS forwards mail today

You might assume that when you file a change of address or temporary mail forwarding with the United States Postal Service that your request gets put into a database. And you would be correct.

But if you think then that the system detects your mail automatically and then redirects it to your new address without human intervention, you would be very wrong.

When I moved to a new place last year, a lot of my mail kept going to my old address and not getting forwarded. I had to go back to my old landlord to pick up my mail. This despite the fact that the change of address was properly recorded in the USPS computers.

When I spoke to the manager of my local post office, I learned how the system works:

Your regular mail deliverer gets a notice when you file a change of address or put your mail temporarily on hold. It is then up to her to remember to set aside your mail when she is at your old address. Then she carries your mail back to the local post office, where it gets sent to the local forwarding facility, and that little yellow label gets applied with your new address.

The manager explained to me that in the old days, mail deliverers used to sort all the mail for their route. They would get a bucket of mail for their route, and sort it into slots to put it in order. They could put a reminder on a slot if that person's mail was to be held or forwarded.

But now, almost all the mail comes already sorted for the carrier. When they are out walking the street, they just have to remember all the people whose mail is on hold or being sent to a new address.

If your regular mail carrier happens to be out sick or on vacation and a temp is delivering your mail, well, too bad. There is no system to print out a consolidated list of all the people on that route whose mail is being held or is being forwarded or where the address has changed. That is what happened to me. My regular mail carrier got the notice, but then he went on vacation and for two weeks the replacement delivered my mail to the old address.

It is truly disgraceful that the USPS hasn't invested in modernizing this system. At a minimum, the system ought to print a list of all the addresses with action to be taken, so temporary workers know whose mail to pull. A much better solution would be to have the automatic sorting machinery recognize mail that should be forwarded and send it to the forwarding facility and not to the mail carrier.

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