- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Some mail to Washington and the rest of the East Coast has been speeded by as much as a day by a U.S. Postal Service policy using trucks instead of airlines for many deliveries, postal officials said.
They say, however, that the same policy has slowed deliveries in the West, sometimes by as much as a day.
The change resulted from postal officials' frustration with persistent airline delays.
"Air transportation has become less and less dependable for us over the last decade," said Chuck Gannon, the Postal Service's national manager for service standards. "Because of the irregularity of airline service for two-day mail, we decided to move our deliveries to what we call highway transportation."
Postal officials said airlines' preference for carrying passengers and their baggage has resulted in mailbags left sitting on tarmacs until the next flight, slowing deliveries nationwide.
"With the airlines, we were just providing erratic service," Mr. Gannon said. "Sometimes it would be good, sometimes it would be terrible."
The February policy change applies only to first-class mail that the Postal Service schedules for two-day delivery. It defines a two-day delivery as one that can be made in a nonlocal area reachable by driving no more than 12 hours at highway speeds after correcting for predictable traffic. The Postal Service builds in time for mail sorting and processing.
All other mail continues to be delivered by the same air or truck routes used before the change.
The Postal Service has 849,106 delivery routes between different areas, defined by the first three digits of the ZIP codes. In Washington, for example, one delivery area includes those that begin with 200.
As a result of the change, 49,348 of the routes are receiving some of their first-class mail in two days instead of three. The improvements were noted almost immediately after the truck deliveries for two-day mail started in February, postal officials said.
Cities with faster two-day deliveries include Washington; Baltimore; Richmond; Columbus, Ohio; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Charleston, W.Va.
The switch to private trucking companies for two-day deliveries is "not faster necessarily, but more consistent and dependable," Mr. Gannon said.
However, deliveries were slowed to three days instead of two for 27,095 routes.
"It's a product of the amount of empty space out there in the West," Mr. Gannon said. "In Washington, D.C., you can get to a lot more major population centers faster than you can if you are in Cheyenne, Wyoming. There are not as many population centers near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
"If that flight is canceled or you miss that flight, you have to wait another day," Mr. Gannon said. "It became too problematic to depend on air service for those Western states."
States that had the most deliveries slowed were Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, as well as western Texas.
"We have not received very many complaints about it," said Al DeSarro, Denver-based spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service's 11-state Western Regional Area. "It mostly has to do with the rural areas of our states."
He attributed the lack of complaints to awareness of the difficulty in juggling airline schedules.
To justify the change, the Postal Service cited a study showing that airline delays increased 58 percent since 1995 and canceled flights rose 60 percent.
In the past year, however, airline schedules and service have improved, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The better service results from relatively good weather, improved labor relations and regulatory changes that have evened out flight schedules, transportation officials said.

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