USPS moves towards clustered mailboxes


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Individual mailboxes may become a thing of the past, because the U.S. Postal Service is moving toward clustering mailboxes in every neighborhood in order to reduce debt.

At the last Iowa City City Council meeting, the council removed a distance requirement for clustered mailboxes and discussed the effect the boxes could have.

Cluster mailboxes, which group all of a neighborhood’s mailboxes in one structure, were previously only allowed to be within 600 feet of any residence. The councilors removed the restriction in response to the Postal Service saying it would no longer support distance limits.

Though clustered mailboxes are the norm in many newer neighborhoods nationwide, older neighborhoods will have a harder time adapting to the change.

One reason for this is they might not have a neighborhood association to maintain the mailboxes, which could cause some problems, said University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Timothy Hagle.

“The question is, who actually is responsible for it?” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for it, and that’s undoubtedly the customer, one way or another.”

Maintenance of the mailboxes is one of the largest ways this change could affect Iowa City, he said.
The logistical impact of clustered mailboxes isn’t the only issue.

Clustered mailboxes could negatively affect neighborhoods visually, said City Councilor Kingsley Botchway II.

“From an aesthetic standpoint, it doesn’t seem to be ideal,” he said. “Trying to make a clustered mailbox look pleasing is going to be very hard to do.”

Though the image of the mailboxes may not be the most appealing, the change is a necessary one for the service, Hagle said. This necessity is caused in part by the Postal Service quickly becoming obsolete.

“Because more people are using electronic mail … [the Postal Service] has to find ways to cut costs,” he said.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Postal Service changed services to cut cost. In February 2013, Saturday mail service was significantly reduced, which was in response to a more than $15 billion debt reported by the service in 2012.

Having clustered mailboxes significantly reduces the amount of time carriers spend in each neighborhood, making one stop instead of several.

“It saves a lot of time,” Iowa City Neighborhood Services coordinator Marcia Bollinger said. “It makes it much more efficient from their end.”

Bollinger said while the clustered mailboxes may be inconvenient for some, especially if their houses are far away from the cluster, she doesn’t expect a very significant impact.

“I haven’t heard any strong feelings,” she said. “I don’t see it being a big controversy.”

Botchway said the council would have preferred more input in the decision, but the councilors will do the best with what they are given.

“The Postal Service is just kind of forcing our hand in this matter,” he said. “From our standpoint, we’ll try to do whatever’s best for the city and its residents.”

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