Do you sense the closure of the postal processing center on Reach Road a year ago has since put more “snail” in your mail?
The facility closed in June 2013 and operations were shifted to Harrisburg, a casualty of technological advancements that have left letter carriers with fewer and fewer items to deliver to individual homes and businesses.
Initially, postal customers were told that they should not experience much of an impact from that move. Yet in the year that passed, many people were not convinced, with some contacting the Sun-Gazette to say as much.
So the Sun-Gazette news team decided to put it to the test, conducting an experiment to analyze the speed at which traditional mail moves in and around Lycoming County and northcentral Pennsylvania.
The news staff put together and mailed 360 pieces of mail that were sent to 12 homes over the course of two weeks from six locations: the downtown post office on Hepburn Street and five neighborhood mailboxes – one each in the city, Muncy, Jersey Shore, Mansfield and Dushore.
The 12 homes receiving the letters were in Williamsport, Hughesville, Trout Run, Montgomery, Mansfield, Dushore and State College.
A majority of the letters did take the one- to three-days delivery time promised by the post office. Mail sent from the city, Muncy, and Jersey Shore all averaged a two-day delivery speed, while mail sent from Mansfield took three days to reach addresses in Dushore and State College and two days to reach the other locations. Letters put in a box earlier in the day had a better chance of having next-day delivery than mail sent out in the afternoon.
Mail coming and going from Sullivan County took a while longer to deliver, averaging about four days to reach the destination. In one mailing, letters sent from a mailbox in Dushore took six days to reach homes.
A Dushore residence received a letter on May 23 that was sent from a mailbox in the same town at 3 p.m. May 14. A letter from the same time and date arrived at a State College address May 21.
Karen Mazurkiewicz, central Pennsylvania and western New York communications program specialist, said the Postal Service closely monitors delivery performance. The delivery standard for local mail is one day for pieces mailed to and from the Williamsport ZIP Code. The overnight service score for First Class Mail hitting that standard is 95.3 percent in central Pennsylvania, she said.
Jared Bose, president of the Williamsport branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said mail sent from 177- ZIP codes and delivered to ZIP codes of the same address should reach their destination in one day.
“Three or four days is unacceptable,” he said.
The lack of a sorting center in Williamsport impacts the time it takes for a letter to arrive at its destination, those interviewed for this report agreed.
As with any change, the post office needed time to adjust to the new sorting facility in Harrisburg, which could explain some of the delays callers to the Sun-Gazette experienced. The Williamsport Post Office delivers mail to about 21,000 business and residential addresses, with about 100 people employed there this year.
Mazurkiewicz said that Williamsport and Harrisburg needed some time to get into a new flow, but that over the course of the past year, improvements in delivery have been made.
John Bengen, president of the local chapter of the American Postal Worker’s Union, said the move definitely affected the speed of mail delivery.
Bengen, who works in the post office garage with employees from post offices in 10 counties, speaks to postal workers from all over the state. He described the issue as inconsistency, saying that a lot of times the mail coming up from Harrisburg is delayed.
“Since they closed the Williamsport plant, their mail has been late,” he said.
Bose has also noticed a lag in delivery time.
He said that the carriers used to get their mail around 7 or 7:30 a.m., but after the transition, mail from the sorting facility would arrive around 8:30 a.m. Some bugs have been worked out, but mail still consistently arrives later than it did when the sorting facility in Williamsport was operational.
The morning delay has a domino effect on the rest of the schedule. Many times, letter carriers are late returning to the office with mail pickups because they have to wait around for trucks from Harrisburg in the morning before they can start their day, Bose said.
Too much responsibility for the facility in Harrisburg could be part of the issue, Bengen said. The Harrisburg sorting facility deals with mail that once was processed in Reading along with Williamsport-area mail, and soon may have to sort Lancaster-area mail too. Some employees in Harrisburg have told Bengen that they feel overwhelmed.
Bengen said he’s heard frustration from customers, as well. In one instance, a customer in Jersey Shore sent a letter to her daughter in Salladasburg on Jan. 4. It took 20 days to be delivered, he said. He said he also has heard more and more reports of priority mail being delayed.
In some cases, proper addressing can help expedite the process, but Bengen isn’t so sure that a fix is that easy. He believes the best way to solve the issues is to bring back the smaller sorting facilities to lessen the pressure in Harrisburg. He’s trying to set up a meeting for postal workers and others who have experienced issues with mail delivery with U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, and state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, in an attempt to bring back the local sorting facility.
Whether that is possible is yet to be determined.
“Once the post office commits to something, it stays, whether it’s the right decision or not,” Bose said.
Declining multiple requests for interviews, Williamsport Postmaster Daniel Shuman referred all questions to Mazurkiewicz.