Deepak Chopra’s War on the Mail

canada_post_faceplantNo, not that Deepak Chopra.

Back in December, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra announced that mail service would be changing. Prices were going up…dramatically, and service would be scaled back. The biggest change will be with door-to-door mail delivery, which will soon cease to exist. In the not-to-distant future, all residences will be served by community mailboxes, to which residents will have to trek in order to get their oh-so-important junk mail.

Chopra has not come through all this unscathed. Canada Post is bloated, but he stands by the bloat. Canada Post has relied on recommendations by the Conference Board of Canada in determining the best course of action. Chopra is a bigwig with the Conference Board, so it’s quite possible their suggestions weren’t made with pure intentions.

Finally, he has said some really stupid stuff:

Chopra brushed off questions that elimination of door-to-door delivery would disproportionately hurt seniors and instead suggested regular walks to community mailboxes might actually do them some good.

“Seniors are telling me that ‘I want to be healthy, I want to be active in my life,’” Chopra said.

Despite the well-deserved criticism aimed at Chopra, Canada Post needs to change. They’re not currently in the red, but they’re clearly on their way, with forecasts revealing the giant financial sinkhole that is their balance sheets. They’ve been running on an antiquated business plan and were nearly brought down (allegedly) by a very mild labour protest.

Let’s get this out of the way; last century’s mail culture has been rendered ludicrous. Door-to-door delivery is unsustainably costly. Few (if any) would be willing to pay what it actually costs to send a letter from Resolute to Cornerbrook, and, in the end, most of us would just email, facebook or tweet, instead.

Further, door-to-door delivery isn’t quite the norm that our over-romanticized Norman Rockwell-esque* memories might suggest. When new developments are planned, community mailboxes are the default. Condos and apartment buildings don’t–and can’t–sustain door-to-door delivery. Rural areas have been slowly and not-so-slowly weened off the service. It is mainly older urban areas that still receive this premium service. If anything, the new reduced service will just mean an increase in equality.

The problem, however, will come when Canada Post gets around to building all these community mailboxes. In older neighbourhoods, lawns and green space can be scarce. Private land will have to be appropriated or public space will have to be re-purposed. As many cities move to make their urban centres more walkable, bike-able, usable and livable, having the post office take a bunch of land (that may turn into dumping grounds for flyers) isn’t necessarily the best option.

In the end, Canada Post held on to its legacy business plan for too long. Innovation will come, but change will placed on the backs of the Canadian public, whether they actually want mail delivery or not (seriously, email). And while all this is occurring, you will have a cheeky CEO of a bloated crown corporation telling you that if you’re a good enough person, you’ll welcome it all as a means of getting in shape.

*Dear Canadian readers: is there a Canadian version of Norman Rockwell, or can we just acknowledge our pop culture inferiority?

 

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26 thoughts on “Deepak Chopra’s War on the Mail

  1. Some of my Canadian friends mentioned this on facebook and some said they always had community mailboxes and others said they had door to door service.

    What would the community mailboxes look like? Would they be the metal boxes you see in apartment buildings? What if there was a package that did not fit in the mailbox? I imagine there could be issues with people who are shipped medicine.

    Call me weird but I prefer the USPS to UPS or FedEx. USPS have never failed in getting me something or delivering something I mailed and priority mail is pretty cheap for a guaranteed 2-3 day delivers in the lower 48. I am expecting a package from UPS. It was shipped on the 23rd with a shipping estimate of 6 business days. It should arrive tomorrow. It was in a city called San Pablo which is 29 miles east on San Francisco. Today instead of bringing it to San Francisco, they took it to South San Francisco which is to the South of San Francisco. You would need to drive a round about way to avoid SF and get from San Pablo to South San Francisco.

    If anyone can explain the logistics of this decision to me, I am all ears.

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    • There is one mailbox on my street that serves sixteen houses. Works fine. For someone with mobility issues, it’d be something of a challenge to get the 100 to 150 feet back and forth, but chances are any of the neighbors (Mrs. Likko and I included) would be willing to help, just to be nice. Don’t see why Canada would be much different.

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      • Interesting. I have never seen that in the US for solo houses. My apartment has a one long box but we all have individual doors.

        Mail in SF is odd. I often seem to get two mail deliveries a day at my apartment. It was only once a day in NYC.

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      • For that matter, I suspect it would be perfectly simple to set up a system whereby persons with mobility-related disabilities can have the mail brought directly to their door by the mail carrier even if they live somewhere with a community mailbox.

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      • Mail in SF is odd. I often seem to get two mail deliveries a day at my apartment. It was only once a day in NYC.

        In my experience in Chicago, while it’s not common, it’s not altogether rare not to get any delivery a few days a month. This could be some confirmation bias thing–maybe we just didn’t get any mail–but speaking with neighbors as well as the fact that the places I’ve lived in have had from 2 to 4 occupied flats, that seems unlikely.

        Not that I’ve ever really had a problem with the US mail. Pretty much everything I’ve sent has gotten to where it’s needed to go, and I’ve received pretty much everything, except an occasional lost netflix dvd.

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      • You’re right, Burt, that sort of thing does tend to work fine… and it is working fine (more or less) for most new development areas–though litter tends to be a problem.

        It will be tricky for Canada Post to fit all these super mailboxes in older, dense neighbourhoods. That seems like the biggest hurdle.

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      • I don’t like that bit about the packages. It seems to me it might be preferable to instead go in between home-delivery and community-box with community boxes for most people and things but home delivery for packages and for people with disabilities. They used to still deliver packages to your door in the community boxed neighborhoods back home.

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    • I like that USPS comes on Saturdays. It’s the economical option much of the time and so I like it when it is. When I lived in the west, delivery from UPS and FedEx were faster, so I liked receiving packages from them more so long as it didn’t involve delivery on weekend.

      Newer neighborhoods in the US are already coming with neighborhood boxes and have since I was a kid. I suspect it’s something you see a lot more of if you’re in a faster-growing part of the country.

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      • Agreed it depends on the age of the neighborhood how mail is delivered. Sometime in the early 1970s new suburban neighorhoods went from door to door, to rural mailbox style, this meant that the postperson did not have to walk but could drive the little jeep they use. Then in the early 1980s they went to the cluster model, where the postperson drives up to the cluster box, gets out, puts the mail in the boxes and drives off. At least where I live there are a couple of large boxes, and if you get a package they put the key to the big box in your mailbox. The big advantage of the cluster box over anything but a door slot, is that the mail is behind a locked door, so mail theft becomes less of an issue.
        Note that the curbside rural style mailbox presents the same issues about folks with mobility as the cluster box.

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      • My neighborhood was rural-style. Had to walk to the front of he front yard to get the mail. My first few residences after that were apartments. Then we got a house in the Pacific Northwest in an old neighborhood and I was stunned to see that they were walking door to door. Seemed like such a waste! But then, I always thought it was terrible that people had to walk down the street to collect their mail. Which kind of goes to show the importance of what you get used to. Get used to curbside mail, and anything else seems like the USPS doing either too much or not enough.

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  2. Can I just say that I think the most amazing part of this post is the fact that your Canada Post CEO is named Deepak Chopra?

    It’s like if Oregon’s Attorney General was named Yanni, or our local city auditor was named Kenny G.

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  3. It costs you more money to get, for instance, pizza delivered to your door than it does if you go pick it up; it is kinda weird that this is reversed for mail. (i.e. PO Box rental fees)

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  4. Personally, I hate the mail, because 98% of it is crap that I’m now obliged to recycle, and the other 2% is stuff that’s actually important, which if I recycle causes me serious problems. I would pay $20 a year for a whitelist service, where I could tell the post office “these people/institutions, and no others, are allowed to send me mail”.

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  5. I feel like the people for whom public door-to-door mail is important are generally underrepresented in our political discourse, so I would be much more supportive of this plan if the Mail had queried those people and tried to address their concerns. Off the top of my head, I can think of the elderly/immobile who are receiving medicine or important cheques and that live in rural areas that would be hit really hard by this. Some kind of stop-gap where government or medical mail gets delivered to the door every few days seems like a good cautious start, though that might disincentivise junk-mail and further drive the agency “into the red”.

    More generally, I find it strange when people talk about the postal service as being “in the red”. We don’t talk about the IRS, NIH, or DOD in the same way. They provide a utility for a cost; sometimes that cost goes up or the value of the utility goes down, or a private company can provide that utility more efficiently. But the idea that these utilities should be profit-oriented is really counter-intuitive to me.

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    • I think the lack of consultation is the big thing, here (especially in light of Chopra’s “old people want to exercise” line). I don’t know that Canada Post attempted to address other people’s concerns. I think they had a plan, had it backed, essentially, by the Conference Board (on which Chopra is a high ranking official) and is now implementing it. It’s probably the right move, but the process isn’t ideal.

      Regarding the issue of people in rural areas – Canada Post has been reducing service levels in rural areas for at least 10 or 15 years. I think many rural areas have already been switched to community mailboxes or something similar. The vast majority of people who still get door-to-door mail delivery are in older urban areas.

      Canada Post owns Purolator (a shipping company) and, as I understand, Purolator will continue to do door-to-door delivery, so there will still be ways to ship packages directly to people, rather than community mailboxes.

      Regarding Canada Post being “in the red”, we must keep in mind that Canada Post is not a government department or agency. It is a crown corporation. Though it is owned by the government, it is expected to be run as a corporation rather than as a public service (though there are public service elements to it). Canada Post isn’t expected to turn a profit, necessarily, but it is expected to be (generally) self-sufficient. A deficit now and then might not be a big deal, but without making changes, it was directed towards a permanent deficit.

      Honestly, I don’t see how mail service could be considered so essential that it should be heavily subsidized or completely socialized (keeping in mind that for all welfare payments, public assistance and CPP cheques that are mailed out are going to be paid for by the government regardless of what the rest of us are charged for a stamp).

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      • Thanks Jonathan, I wasn’t aware of the public/private gray-area for the Canada Post and that’s very informative.

        It’s interesting that here in the US the post office is one of the very few agencies that’s explicitly written into the constitution. One argument is that communication is such an essential part of a functioning society that it can only be entrusted to the government. Though that still doesn’t preclude the government from underwriting a private mail system (as it so often does with military contracts). I also think there’s a high risk of monopoly with any utility: where the market is very broad and consistent (for example, everyone uses tap water every day), the cost to establish delivery is very high (water lines to every home are expensive), and the service relative homogenous (mostly delivering water from one place to another) market competition can become very inefficient. If that utility is integral to society and ends up being run by a private monopoly some dangerous things can happen. I guess the question is weather the post still falls into this type of utility (or if it every did), and, more importantly, if new technologies such as wireless service or the internet should now be considered inalienable utilities as well.

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