Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Post Office Closure Plan Canceled Thousands of Rural Sites Win Reprieve by Agreeing to Shortened Hours of Operation

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Post Office Closure Plan Canceled Thousands of Rural Sites Win Reprieve by Agreeing to Shortened Hours of Operation

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The debt-ridden U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday that it is scrapping plans to close thousands of post offices and instead will drastically reduce hours at most of its rural operations to as few as two a day. The shorter hours will affect more than a third of the country's 31,509 post offices.

The abrupt shift in strategy, 10 months after officials announced that 3,700 money-losing post offices would likely be shuttered, comes as Congress appeared headed toward deadlock on a plan to address the agency's multibillion-dollar deficit.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said he was responding to an outcry from rural areas fighting to preserve jobs, service and identities offered by their post office. "When we announced those closures, what people said to us was, 'Keep our post office open,' " he said. "We have to have shorter hours. But if we can shrink the labor costs, we can keep the buildings open."

Plans to close 223 mail-sorting hubs remain, Mr. Donahoe said.

In Western Pennsylvania, the proposed reductions in hours could affect a number of offices. In Allegheny County, post offices in communities such as East Pittsburgh, Dravosburg and Crescent could see their daily retail times cut from eight hours to six.

Reductions could be more severe in surrounding counties, such as in Fayette, where post offices including Chestnut Ridge, Ronco, Fairhope and Gibbon Glade will see daily service reduced from eight hours to two.

The Postal Service was determined not to close a post office that a community wanted to preserve, said regional spokesman Tad Kelley. He described the process of keeping offices open to serve customers while shortening hours to save money as a "compromise."

"We're doing what the public is asking us to do," Mr. Kelley said, while also right-sizing the service's national network.

When the Postal Service announced the prospective 3,700 closures last year, the list showed 11 Allegheny County offices, including post offices in Gateway Center, Fourth Avenue and Uptown. Those, along with several others in Allegheny County, were not on Wednesday's list of post offices being considered for reduced hours.

Decisions about the future of post offices missing from Wednesday's list are still being made, Mr. Kelley said. With the service facing severe financial difficulties, more tough decisions - - including whether to close mail processing centers and end Saturday delivery -- lie ahead.

Although low revenue and poor foot traffic had made rural outposts vulnerable to closure, lawmaker opposition was hurting prospects for a House bill to overhaul the service's finances.

The agency is headed for $14 billion in losses this year, and postal officials have said that without congressional intervention, they are so squeezed on costs and revenue that they will default on their obligations. …

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