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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Post Office

Postmaster General William Bolger must have been watching the Big Oil companies operate. He’s learned that really higher price increases bring less public resistance than modest increases. And besides, demanding an outrageous increase gives him an opportunity to compromise down to only a shocking increase.

I am referring of course, to the 33.1 percent increase in the price of your first-class postage stamp that Bolger wants to institute in March 1981. By then it will cost you 20 cents to mail a first class letter, up from the present 15 cent level.

It took from 1919 to 1932 for the first class stamp to go from two cents to three cents. It went to four cents in, 1958, to five cents in 1963, to six cents in 1968. Then the former head of AT&T, Frederick Kappel, was asked by President Johnson to reorganize the U.S. Post Office. His recommendation resulted in the postal reorganization of 1970 that gave us the U.S. Postal Service. Kappel could hardly have done a better job of encouraging people to use the long distance telephones instead of first-class mail. By 1971, the stamp went to eight cents, then to 10 cents in 1974, 13 cents in 1975 and 15 cents in 1978.

Bolger has announced other increases for other classes of mail used by businesses, but their percentage rise is a small fraction of the first class postage hike.

There are procedures that the postmaster general is required to follow before he gets his way. The law stipulates that his price increase proposal must be considered by the Postal Rate Commission, a toothless agency with no subpoena power and no final decision power over the Postal Service. What it can do is hold hearing on postal rate matters and make recommendation to the Postal Service base on the hearing record only.

That latter qualification is not trivial. For to get your views on the hearing record, you have to be a formal intervenor and present testimony. Your letter sent from Miami to St. Louis will be duly filed, but its facts and arguments cannot be considered by the commission because you would not be a formal intervenor.

The big mailers like Time-Life, Dow Jones and the American Bankers Association spend between $30,000 and $1 million to present their cases for lower postal rates for themselves before the Postal Rate Commission (PRC). Your ordinary household first-class postal user is not quite in that league. At the recent PRC hearing only one individual intervened along with dozens of corporate or business intervenors.

It is quite difficult for the average citizen to have any voice in the Postal Service’s decisions. You can’t even complain to your senator or representative because the Postal Service was “depoliticized” in 1970. It now takes literally an act of Congress, and nothing less, to move that bureaucracy.

What are Americans getting for these price rises and the improved automation and organization that the Postal Service regularly touts? Less frequent and more inconvenient service — that’s what.

David Minton, senior staff member of the House Post Office Committee, says, “There is no doubt that Saturday mail will be ended in two or three years.” By that time, postal observers predict, your first class stamp will cost 25 cents.

That’s not all. Since 1978 there has been no to-the-door delivery for new housing. The Postal Service ruled that all new housing built after 1978 must have cluster boxes rather than door boxes — no more mail deliverers stopping by the house to deliver the mail and on the way exchanging a few pleasantries with the elderly.

Postal users’ complaints about delayed service are case studies in futility. The Postal Service does hold itself accountable for failure to deliver on time when you pay $7.50 for overnight “Express Mail.” You can receive a refund.

The Postal Service situation can only go from bad to worse. The commercial, mass mailers are subsidized by the first-class users. The first-class, household users have no rights and no representation. For information on what can be done about improving this situation, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Kathy Conkey, P.O. 19367, Washington, D.C., 20036.