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Queens Chronicle

On the trail of snail mail: A first-class letter’s trip

Slower service, if cost cuts go through

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Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 12:00 pm

Whether it’s a bill payment, greeting card or correspondence to a friend or relative, few people give much thought to what happens once they drop a letter in a mailbox, provided it meets its destination in a timely manner.

To illustrate the long journey of a first-class piece of mail, let’s follow, for example, the route of a letter going from the Flushing post office on Main Street to the Jamaica branch on Archer Avenue.

First the letter travels about 12 miles to a processing plant on Forbell Street in Brooklyn. Once all the mail that needs to be sorted arrives, it is separated by ZIP code, according to Stephen Larkin, executive vice president of the Flushing branch of the American Postal Workers Union.

Next, the Flushing letter is transported by truck more than 13 miles back to Queens, where it is dropped off at the Whitestone plant on 20th Avenue to be sorted again by postal branch and letter carrier route. Then it is transported another seven miles to arrive in Jamaica — that’s 32 miles before it is given to a letter carrier who delivers it to its final destination.

Larkin said that shipping the mail to Brooklyn rather than doing all of the sorting in Queens was a move the United States Postal Service implemented in 2009, “to promote productivity at the Brooklyn plant,” despite union opposition.

Under a new proposed cost-saving plan, which would result in the consolidation or closure of the Whitestone plant and others across the country, the mail would take a slightly longer trip, and require more time to sort and deliver.

Presently, first-class mail is processed between midnight and 6 a.m. to allow for delivery on the next business day. But under the Postal Service’s proposal, which could be implemented next May, processing would be done from midnight to noon the next day, extending the delivery time to two to three days.

Under that scenario the sample letter would take a different route.

From Flushing our correspondence would travel about 11 miles to a plant on 9th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, where it would be separated into four parts — pieces traveling outside of New York City, those staying in Manhattan or going to the Bronx, and those being sent to the USPS Triboro district — Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, according to Larkin.

Next, the Flushing letter would be sent nearly 14 miles to the Brooklyn plant to be sorted by ZIP code, post office and letter carrier route. Pieces designated for Queens would be sent directly from there to the appropriate area post office, Larkin said.

So our sample letter would be on the road for another seven miles before arriving at the Jamaica post office — a total of 33 miles — and into the hands of a letter carrier.

Larkin, who called the new plan “self-destructive,” believes the two- to three-day anticipated delivery time is unrealistic given the logistics of the route, and expects the time of arrival for first-class mail to be closer to four to six days.

In comparison, if one were to drive the letter directly from Flushing to Jamaica, a distance of about six miles, it would take approximately 12 minutes, provided there is no traffic.

Larkin, of Fresh Meadows, asserted that expanding delivery times will hurt postal customers and force them to look to alternate mail transportation services such as FedEx and UPS.

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