How long does it take to mail a letter

on monday morning april 5th, a gbh news editor dropped a letter in a mailbox outside the us. uu. post office in cambridge central square. The letter was addressed to a family member in Memphis, Tennessee.

almost three weeks later, that letter has not arrived.

another gbh news editor sent a letter the same day to berkley, michigan, from the massive fort point channel post office. that envelope took 14 days to make the trip.

The United States Postal Service advertises that First Class Mail, your average letter with a 55-cent stamp, arrives within “1-3 business days.” that’s an official standard set by the postal service.

We decided to give it a try.

gbh news editors, reporters and producers sent nearly 100 letters from different locations in the metropolitan area at various times on the same day to correspondents of their choice in 38 states, creating a random sample. the letters were addressed to residents of large cities, suburbs, and small towns. The experiment was designed to recreate what might be the experience of a typical US user. uu. postal service.

the postal service did not pass our test. a little more than half of our letters arrived within the three-day window.

By Friday of that week much of our mail had arrived, but there were still ten letters left wandering the country looking for their recipients. A letter to rural Virginia arrived on April 13; a letter to washington, dc, took another three days. as of April 22, there were still two letters that could not be accounted for. results were better for mail within massachusetts: all 10 state letters sent by gbh staff arrived before april 8th.

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These results fall far short of what the post office intended to achieve, or used to achieve. in april 2020, usps reported that in the boston metro area, about 98% of local mail arrived within 2-5 days, and 97% of domestic mail in the area arrived within 7 days, according to reports filed by save the post office website.

for our sample, approximately 89% arrived on April 12.

Steve Hutkins, a retired New York University English professor who runs the Save the Post Office website, said that since last summer the postal service “has had trouble keeping up with its standards.” postal delivery times began to decline around July and bottomed out in December. “It’s gotten better since then, but it’s still not back to where it’s supposed to be,” Hutkins said.

and while we’re just talking about waiting a few extra days or a week for mail, hutkins says those wait times aren’t trivial.

“If it’s your paycheck and you’re expecting it, it matters a lot,” he said. data from her site shows that more than 30% of first-class mail is “transactional” mail, things like bills, payments, donation requests. a late bill or late payment can have a dramatic impact. for every day the mail is delayed, “someone doesn’t get their money,” she said.

In our non-scientific sample, distance from boston did not appear to be a determining factor in how long a letter would take. A letter to Baltimore took as long as a letter to Hawaii (a week). on april 7, the us the post office delivered two dozen of our letters to points in the new england/northeast corridor, and one to tuscaloosa, alaska. letters deposited at the central post office in the city center had no apparent advantage in speed of delivery compared to letters deposited at mail slots in residential buildings.

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In issuing a new 10-year plan in March to overhaul the service, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Chairman of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors Ron Bloom acknowledged that the Post Office is not meeting their own service standards and hasn’t been for many years. Part of the solution, they say, is to change the standard so that mail can take longer: “Our plan is to modify the existing service standards for first-class mail letters and planes from a current service standard of 1 to 3 days within the continental United States at a service standard of one to five days.

The reasoning here is that meeting the 1-3 day standard requires the use of aircraft to transport mail, but the postal service does not control its own fleet and has gotten poor performance from the commercial aircraft it does use. moving that mail to trucks may slow it down, but it will make it more predictable. the utility will need to initiate formal rulemaking and consider public comments before making any changes.

steve doherty, spokesman for the postal service’s northeast region, said that like any other business, covid-19 has made it difficult for the post office to maintain staffing levels, but he also said delivery times have improved since late last year and “are now back to peak pre-holiday service levels.” He added that the move to a five-day service standard for first-class mail “will improve the reliability and predictability of service for customers and improve the efficiency of the postal service network.”

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scott hoffman doesn’t buy it. Hoffman, head of the American Postal Workers Union’s Boston Metropolitan Branch, told gbh news that the slowdown in the mail has been a direct result of policy changes implemented by dejoy, including a reduction in staff overtime, the elimination of high-speed sorting machines and a decision to stop mail trucks until they are full instead of letting partially loaded trucks go out to move mail.

Instead of investing in more people and machines to move mail faster, he said, “the postal service is now walking away from its service commitments” in the new 10-year plan. Hoffman said he believes dejoy’s real goal is to erode public trust in the government-controlled postal system in order to build support for privatizing it.

“what you’re doing is cowardly,” hoffman said.

If you express those concerns in a strong worded letter, it may take u a while. yes postal service to deliver it.

ken cooper contributed to this story, as did some two dozen gbh staff members.

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