How Makers, Hackers, and Entrepreneurs Can Save the U.S. Postal Service

How Makers, Hackers, and Entrepreneurs Can Save the U.S. Postal Service

Over the holidays, when the Adafruit shipping staff was away, I shipped hundreds and hundreds of packages of open source electronics. I put on headphones, and did my rounds through the factory and storage shelves. It was a good chance for me to reflect on how much I like the postal service (and the companies that are built around it like Endicia and For a reasonable price, they can get almost anything anywhere. Sure, there are problems once in awhile, but for the volume and price, it’s pretty incredible. We have a daily pick up and delivery here in NYC; the postal staff is like part of my team. A few weeks ago, the postal service had a petition trying to get support so Saturday service wouldn’t shut down — things are getting grim.

You’ve probably seen the recent headlines: the postal service has reported massive loses in the billions. As I spent the days and nights shipping, I thought it would be interesting to consider how we could transform and evolve the postal system. I think makers, hackers, and entrepreneurs have unique ways of looking at things, and I’d like to share some of the ideas I had. Most of all, I’d like your input. Together we could start some conversations on how we could utilize this national logistical treasure. Which brings us to this week’s Soapbox: “How Makers, Hackers, and Entrepreneurs Can Save the U.S. Postal Service.”

Let’s go!

First, a quick history lesson:

The United States Postal Service (also known as USPS, the Post Office, or U.S. Mail) is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution. The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress, where Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. The cabinet-level Post Office Department was created in 1792 from Franklin’s operation and transformed into its current form in 1971 under the Postal Reorganization Act.

First Us Stamps 1847 Issue

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president, but he’s on the $100 bill, the highest bill in circulation. What a great symbol of American ingenuity. But how are they doing now? Not so good…

The USPS employs over 574,000 workers and operates over 218,000 vehicles. It is the second largest civilian employer in the United States. The USPS is the operator of the largest vehicle fleet in the world. The USPS is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. The USPS has exclusive access to letter boxes marked “U.S. Mail” and personal letterboxes in the United States, but still competes against private package delivery services, such as UPS and FedEx.

On December 5, 2011 the USPS announced it will close more than half of its mail processing centers, eliminate 28,000 jobs and end overnight delivery of first-class mail. This will close down 252 of its 461 processing centers. On December 13, 2011 the USPS agreed to delay the closing of 252 mail processing centers as well as 3,700 local post offices until mid-May 2012. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) (HR 6407), enacted on December 20, 2006, obligates the USPS to prefund 75-years’ worth of future health care benefit payments to retirees within a ten-year time span — a requirement to which no other government organization is subject.

And just to get the bad news out of the way, here’s more. Postal Service reports massive loss.

Pt 101563
Chart from the NY Times.

The agency reported an annual loss of $5.1 billion, as declining mail volumes and mounting benefit costs take their toll. The Postal Service said its losses would have been roughly $10.6 billion if not for the passage of legislation postponing a $5.5 billion payment required to fund retiree health benefits.

Revenues from First-Class Mail, the Postal Service’s largest and most profitable product, declined 6% from the previous fiscal year to $32 billion. Total mail volume declined by 3 billion pieces, or 1.7%.

“The continuing and inevitable electronic migration of First-Class Mail, which provides approximately 49 percent of our revenue, underscores the need to streamline our infrastructure and make changes to our business model,” Postal Service CFO Joe Corbett said in a statement accompanying the figures.

Last year’s losses hit $8.5 billion, despite deep cuts in expenses and staffing. Mail volume is down more than 20% over the past four years.

So before I list off my ideas (and you post yours) on turning this ship around, let’s assume that the retiree health benefits are taken care of independently. I want to focus on ideas and services, not the benefit costs for people who retire. I realize that’s part of the business concerns, but this is about transforming the postal service from a maker/hacker point of view. Let’s keep the politics out and focus on the attainable, actionable ideas that could potentially happen. Got it? Thanks!

These are in no particular order, and there are some completely wacky ideas tossed in for humor.

The U.S. Postal Service Sensor Network

The postal service would outfit every truck with a networked “box of sensors.” They would rent sensor space in every vehicle for sensor nets. We can do that with satellites now and there are DIY sats on the way, why not for mail trucks? USA pollution, radiation, bio-threat sensors, all on every truck, all available as an API to use. Researches could use it, regular people could send off their modules that were built to spec. “You get 12V DC power and 6″x6″x6″.” We’d have a fleet of Arduino-powered sensor networks reporting back everything. Big data grinding away from every town in America. Google was collecting our wi-fi so it’s certainly possible to collect other things as the trucks move about the U.S. Pictured above, a little postal truck-meets-Engadget.

The U.S. Postal Service Street-View Service

Rent mail car roof space to companies wanting to do mapping. Bing could get a real photo of most places EVERY DAY, almost like real-time Google Street View. Or maybe it’s a public service that we all get access to with an API to experiment with. If you can get daily photos from every street, every place a postal truck goes to every day, what would be possible? Want to do a virtual tour of the USA? Work with Livestream/Ustream to stream the mail routes each day. I would tune in to my old addresses and hometown from time to time to “hitch a ride.” That’s a silly idea, but you get the point.

Pictured above, fake Google Street View car you can make on your own.

The U.S. Postal Service Cloud

Image Cc9E77A2-A14A-4Abe-Ab8B-7619C00D3F13
Provide mobile hotspots wherever the mail service is, from buildings to vehicles. These would be small cell towers that would bring access to some areas each day, extend networks of cell providers, and a lot of things I didn’t think of. The carriers could use the trucks to see weak areas of their networks and the big blue postal service mail bins could eventually be wireless network nodes in large cities, providing a public wireless network (and sensor network). Maybe your P.O. box is your own local backup storage on flash drives, off-site and always there when you need it. I’d love a TB of storage at the local post office that is syncing my important data that’s off-site and always just there.

Pictured above, Cloud vector icons.

The U.S. Postal AdSense

Pt 441
Sell our mail to Google to scan, then they can add small relevant ads to it. Just kidding, maybe. But on a serious note, there is so much data that gets “scanned” in some way to get any mail from one place to another, I’m sure there’s something else we could do with this. Handwriting analysis, pattern recognition, there’s a lot going.

The U.S. Postal Kickstarter Fulfillment Service

Provide shipping services to “crowd-funded products” at reduced rates. For example, Kickstarters that are shipping their goods can use the postal service at a great rate. If one of the biggest issues the postal service has is declining use, why not bolt on to Kickstarter and offer such an amazing deal for makers to ship their goods to customers that they’ll use it. Fueling crowd-sourced projects in some way will get more people using the postal service, and who knows, maybe others will start to see the value too. Since the most popular Kickstarter projects are actual physical goods, they eventually need to be shipped. Yes, eBay does deals, but this is different — this is a specific effort for community and crowd-funded services using the postal service exclusively because it’s the best deal.

The U.S. Postal Service Adds 3D Printing

Pt 355
Have 3D printers in post offices. You send in a file and pick it up a few days later or it’s sent to you. They could work with Ponoko, Shapeways, etc., and rent out space in each city to them. The post office has lots of space and large machines, and it’s basically running 24/7 — that’s what we need for 3D printing hubs. You’d upload your files to and you’d pick up items in your special 3D P.O. box storage unit, or get them mailed to you.

The U.S. Postal Service Offers Small Business “Grants” For Office Space/Co-Working

Pt 442
Grant 10,000 square feet in NYC, and other big cities, that the postal service is not using (the post offices in NYC have tons of empty space). I’ll pay market rate and run an electronics factory from it. That’s a selfish one because I need about that much space now, but why not grant cool companies doing design, engineering, and science workspace grants to get them in the same building as post offices that aren’t being used as much and have tons of space? Part of the deal is you’d use the postal service for all your shipping needs — well most of them! MakerBot in Brooklyn should just take over a mail building that’s not being used. They’re making big boxes of things that just need to be shipped.

Having internet startups and cool companies that make things in the same building as the post office in large cities could foster all sorts of cross-innovation.

Pictured above, the Peck Slip Post Office a few blocks from where I live/work. I want makers in that building before Apple turns it into an Apple store!

So those are the notes I jotted down as I shipped packages during an unusually warm December here in NYC. I’m really curious what you think. Remember, this is all about NEW IDEAS. Post yours in the comments!

166 thoughts on “How Makers, Hackers, and Entrepreneurs Can Save the U.S. Postal Service

  1. Russ Nelson says:

    I was thinking that they should be doing rural delivery like the railroads handed off train orders. Instead of a mailbox, you have a mail hook. The mail truck drives down the road with your mail in a plastic bag. When it comes to your mail hook, a robot arm extends out with your mail in a bag. Your mail hook snatches it off the robot arm. In this manner, one USPS truck could deliver to many more rural mail “boxes” than currently.

  2. Dave says:

    I’m actually a little annoyed with the USPS right now, and the reason is the exact reason that the US Post office is doomed. Sure they offer a reasonable price, but their service is terrible. I don’t actually remember the last time that a package, sent first class mail with delivery confirmation actually arrived at my hose on the day it was estimated. In fact, it was only a few months ago I was expecting a package, first class mail, with delivery confirmation requested which was almost 2 weeks late. In that instance, it was only after I had filed a complaint with the local post office that it was finally delivered. To make matters worse, they sent me delivery confirmation by email the day after I filed the complaint, which prompted me to file another complaint because the item had not in fact been delivered (and I had received an email confirmation of delivery). It was the day after that the package finally apeared on my front porch. The day after that a representative from the post office called and suggested that the reason I had received confirmation before getting the package was that one of my neighbors had taken the package off my front porch, and then returned it the following day.

    So my take away from that is: With the USPS you kind of get what yo pay for: A cheap rate, for crappy slow service.

    1. Huck says:

      They must also be horredously low tech. I was picking up a package at the post office, because a signature was required, and seriously waited 10+ min for the guy to rummage around the back looking for it! Or whatever he was doing. Don’t they have some sort of bar code system or something to figure out where my package is stored? This seems elementary to me for the postal service!

  3. johngineer says:

    I think they could improve service markedly if they ditched all the lousy junk mail. It’s often pointed out that junk mail is the only profitable thing they do (which is kinda sad), but if they ditched the junk mail and raised the rates a bit, I really wouldn’t mind if the service was improved. Judging by the content of my mail box every day, the system seems terribly bloated by all this direct-mail crap — it easily accounts for 90% of the mail I get every day (sometimes 100%), and I never read _any_ of it, I just throw it in the recycle bin. Which raises the point that it’s a huge waste of trees and paper.

    I think they really need to slim down a bit, and a reduction in overall volume would probably go a long way toward streamlining their operation. This will be necessary eventually anyway, because direct-mail marketing is an “old man’s game” — younger people just don’t respond to it. If they eliminate it now on their own terms, they will be able to control the transition into something new. If they manage to exist long enough for direct-mail to become completely unprofitable, they will have to go through all this hand-wringing again.

    I also think that incorporating other services into the post office is a very good idea, either by allowing lessees to share their space, or by providing other services like mail scanning.

    1. Craig says:

      What is junk mail to you is a business advertising it’s goods and services. Telling the USPS to quit delivering “junk” mail is about the same as telling a television network to stop the commercials which interrupt your programs.

  4. Paul says:

    Many RFD routes are already outsourced to contractors so unless the contractors wanted to invest in the technology to hang your bag on a hook, there’s no value to that.

    I heard some time back that, given that the USPS is the only delivery service that is require to serve every address, package delivery companies will dump their stuff at post offices if the local address is too hard for them to get to. With no payment. They get paid to deliver and they just walk away. I can’t remember where I saw it but may try to look it up. Could be a myth but at the time it seemed like there was some corroboration.

    I look at the USPS (or any national postal system) as analogous to the internet. It services all addresses, regardless of location and it’s owned by the public to whom it answers. Used to be mail service and roads were of national importance: you couldn’t claim you owned territory unless it was connected to the rest of your territory (for obvious reasons: taxes, commerce, military defense). Do we want to limit the ability to send a payment or address an issue with the government to the hands of private carriers?

    I would address the rates paid by junk mailers and catalogs: if memory serves, they get a pretty good rate and I think we would all like to see them pay something more like their share, especially if it reduces the amount of junk we get (c’mon, folks, the internet is a boundless catalog: put the stuff up there. We’ll find it when we need it).

    1. Greg Hora says:

      Increasing the postage rate on junk mail and catalogs is a great idea. Kill two birds with one stone. Or what if they had some sort of “deposit” like they have on cans and bottles out here in CA. The junk mailers would have to pay an extra $/lbs of junk mail and then the recipients could turn the mail back in to be recycled and receive cash back. Not everyone would turn in the mail (post office keeps the deposit) and the people who do turn in the mail would be recycling some dead trees.

    2. Paula Martin says:

      Right you are. Here is the real reason the US Post Office is floundering

  5. Greg Hora says:

    While there may be a few gripes about the USPS, (long lines at post offices, lost mail, etc.) I agree with Phillip – for a very reasonable price I can mail a package to practically every spot in our country (and the world). Why does a service like this need to be profitable?

    When you look at it from the standpoint of a service that provides some critical links in our economy, then I’d argue it is very “profitable”. Think about the benefits our highway system gives us – without the majority of the roads being toll roads. How much profit does our military earn?

    In response to the question about how they could add services, why not look to the private sector and FedEx/Kinkos? Maybe they could offer some copy center and publishing support.

    1. Bob Alexander says:

      Greg, it needs to be profitable because otherwise it’s destroying value.

      Imagine a company that takes raw materials and labor that are worth $100, and produces something with them worth only $75. That company is not making the world a better place – it’s making it a worse place.

      When people talk about profit and loss, they give the impression that it’s only about greed. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a moral issue. Not that “greed is good” but that wasting resources to make something less useful is morally bad, and using resources efficiently in ways that people value is morally good.

      It’s in many ways a type of environmentalism.

      1. Greg Hora says:

        I don’t know if I would call it wasting resources, more like providing a subsidized service. The post office is operating at a loss and is kept afloat by our government.

        I’d again like to compare it to our highway system. If you think about it, our roads are a pure money pit! Talk about destroying value…we pay all this money in taxes and we lay down the roads and the roads (non toll) just sit there without generating any money, and then we have to go back and fix them! Talk about a bad investment…until you stop and think about all the value that is created by allowing trade to happen between cities.

        That is the argument I’m trying to make. While the post office doesn’t directly make a profit, I’d argue that it still plays a role in our local economy being profitable.

      2. Bob says:

        Greg, the Post Office claims it no longer receives subsidies from the gov’t. All it has is its legally-protected monopoly on 1st class mail. So it’s truly destroying value – not being subsidized.

        The roads are another interesting issue. We simply don’t know if they are destroying value or not. The gov’t subsidizes them, no one visibly pays their true cost, so no one can evaluate whether they are worthwhile or not.

        This is why gov’t subsidies are so monstrous: they hide important information so that no one knows the true value of things. Is recycling more efficient than trashing? No one really knows. Is solar power better than oil? It’s impossible to tell because the gov’t has thoroughly distorted the price of both.

        And the danger is that, when no one knows the true value, destructive political decisions are made … like mandating ethanol, which appears to generate more greenhouse gas than it eliminates.

        Back to the roads for a moment: they seem to be good, but they also promote urban sprawl and massive environmental destruction. Not everyone agrees that they have created value.

      3. lattn says:

        The Post Office was established as a service where income from sales would equal costs. As a service it was never intended to make a profit. The reason for the “losses” is a law passed in 2006 by Congress that mandated that the Post Office fund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10. On the other hand banks and Wall St.were bailed out by taxpayer where the Post Office functioned quite well until the 5.5 Billion a year was to be paid to the treasury which if the law is kept in place will continue to claim these payments which have nothing to do with mail service as a “loss” when the Post Office is unable to meet over and above the cost of processing and delivering mail.
        To view link, highlight,-right click left click on link

    2. Christopher Perez says:

      i remember when you could make copies at the post office more services would be great but that might lead to longer lines.

  6. Bob says:

    I hate to be the first to suggest this, but I think that we are completely spoiled getting delivery 6 days out of seven to our homes. In my case they have to walk up onto my porch, because the mailbox has been there for 50 years. And a letter can get from one coast to the other typically in 3 or 4 days, for under $0.50. That’s not bad service!

    If they went to 3 days a week, at least for residential, it would seem like you would reduce the letter carriers very significantly, which has to be a huge part of the costs. But, I’m sure people would write their congressmen to keep the mail coming every day, and that the postal unions would lobby very hard to stop that (notice that this is what happened when they were going to close processing centers, post offices, and eliminate Saturday delivery).

    In other words, the radical thought is that if the Post Office is supposed to be like a business, they should be allowed to be a business.

    1. Mike says:

      Bob, Right now, package volume is increasing twice as fast for USPS than it is for UPS and FedEx. If the Postal Service went to 3 days a week, it would destroy their package delivery.

  7. Phillip Torrone says:

    remember folks this is about IDEAS!

  8. monopole says:

    The post office isn’t dying it’s being murdered.
    Check out “H.R. 6407: Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” PAEA.
    It requires the Postal Service to fund retirement and health benefits for the next 75 years in advance. That’s right, the USPS has to fully fund health benefits for employees who haven’t been born yet! No other federal agency has this requirement.

    To quote this article

    This $19.5 billion deficit almost exactly matches the $20.95 billion the USPS made in prepayments to the fund for future retiree health care benefits by June 2011. If the prepayments required under PAEA were never enacted into law, the USPS would not have a net deficiency of nearly $20 billion, but instead be in the black by at least $1.5 billion.

    Why? To privatize and bust unions.

    1. Phillip Torrone says:

      make sure to also post up some ideas to help save it :)

      1. Alan Dove says:

        Sorry, Phil, but this isn’t an engineering problem. The current “crisis” was created entirely by Congress, in a deliberate effort to advance an ideological goal of a particular political party. Indeed, the policy change was carefully designed so that only a wholesale gutting of the postal union would be able to fix it. This blog post is doing nothing but promoting the cover story, which claims that the postal service’s problems are of its own making. They are not.

        This can’t be fixed by makers, only by voters.

        1. None of the above says:

          Just FYI the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans. My guess is you believe it is a vast right wing conspiracy but one of the Democrat co-sponsors was none other than Henry Waxman.

          The LA Times has a good article on the financial woes this bill enacted on the USPS and it pins most of the blame on the act’s “pre-funding the health benefits of future retirees 50 years in advance at a rate of about $5.6 billion a year.” As the story states the Unions most certainly went along with this plan,0,3071142.story

          As for ideas to save the post office it’s doubtful any of the ones mentioned above will suffice and would be symbolic at best.

          The best idea to solve this issue is to read up more on this issue and contact your congressman/woman to repeal the act. It

      2. Jose Torres says:

        Any problem can be fixed by makers because makers make things happen.

  9. Dewan says:

    The postal service is required to deliver UPS packages to unprofitable difficult addresses for $1.00 each. Not free, but close. Good deal for UPS, not so good for USPS. Why? UPS owns more senators. It’s good to be part of the 1%.

  10. Steve says:

    Couple thoughts;
    1- Junk mail costs should increase, but who determines what is junk mail? How does the post office know that this is junk and this is not? OK, some some is sent to resident or occupant etc, but same companies could figure out names. Having said that, I’m sure some can be identified and as such cost increased.
    1b)hold the junk mail and deliver on only 2 days. There are many days where junk is the only thing I get. If that is the case for 1/3 of my neighbors, then that saves that many stops for the carrier
    2) Sensors in mailboxes. Although a huge initial cost (unless forced upon us – like all mailboxes really), put a sensor in the box that alerts the carrier that there is mail to pick up, sort of a electronic flag. If they can bypass the house hung boxes (saving steps) or entire streets, it should save something right?
    3)The 3d printing idea. Although it sounds nice, I can not imagine a huge market for it, since I can send it to Shapeways now and get a few days later – in the mail. I’d rather see these in my library, along with the CNC machines.
    4)EV’s. I’m sure with all the stop and go, it would be right up an EV’s alley.

    1. ameyring says:

      Unfortunately for urban areas, having mailboxes right up by the sidewalk is grounds for theft of mail. I feel bad for USPS workers having to go up and down steps of homes with large lawns and understand if they cross the lawns as long as the grass is okay.

      1. J Harton says:

        Never mind that mail theft is a federal crime?

  11. gthurman says:

    1- Lets knock off the most volatile first: eliminate Saturday delivery but let the route people keep their current salary based on Saturday deliveries. 2- Postal people, by definition, go by every address every day. FedEx/UPS go only where they have deliveries and neighborhoods with addresses spaced less dense are not as profitable. Let USPS contract with FedEx and UPS to deliver ‘the last mile’. 3- People moving into my neighborhood in Texas are forced to install a curb side box making it easier for thieves. I counter proposed to my local postmaster I and my neighbor would install both boxes on a single pedestal on the mutual property line. It would reduce stops by 50% and provide for motorized access. She said she would get back to me, even offering to supply the post, but never did. 4- Current route persons tell me they literally have >>five<< supervisors. At times there are as many as 3 supervisors driving in a single car following the route person supposedly doing time and motion studies. I guess it takes 3 to make one brain.5- There will always be persons of limited tech capabilities. We could install a cheap computer with scanner and Internet access at local post offices. For a fee less than first class, a person could bring in a handwritten note. we could scan and transmit to the zip code post office for printing like a post card and delivering to teh addressee.

    1. Eric says:

      Love the idea of scanning documents and sending them to be printed at the local post office. Granted there would be privacy concerns, but it would save so much on shipping paper across the country.

      1. scruss says:

        USPS had something like this in the 1990s. You could compose a text message online (pre-web), give a postal address, and for around $1, your message would get printed at a local sorting office and mailed. Compuserve had it hidden away as a messaging option.

      2. Russell Russell says:

        While I was stationed overseas we would get “Motomail” ( Basically an email that was printed out and delivered to us where ever we were stationed. It’s not nearly the same as a handwritten letter when you haven’t seen your family in a while, but it does transmit information quickly.

    2. Craig says:

      USPS already delivers the last mile for FEDEX/UPS.

  12. Bob Alexander says:

    While it’s true that the Constitution explicitly authorizes post offices, that’s not a blank check for the post office to do anything it wants (sensors on trucks, street view, 3D printing). The purpose of the authorization is to deliver mail, not to compete against entrepreneurs in any business whatsoever.

    This reminds me of the posting some time back about repurposing libraries as maker spaces. Why this urge to perpetuate bureaucracies that have outlived their usefulness? If the time comes that we don’t need paper books, close the libraries and sell the buildings to whomever can come up with a good use for them – maker space or otherwise.

    Likewise, if we someday no longer need paper letters delivered, shut down the USPS and let the market find new uses for the resources.

    1. kevin says:

      Libraries aren’t anywhere near dead, they still are busy with people checking out books, and have added internet access. It’s like you are saying they shouldn’t have been allowed to add computers, so they would die sooner. Anything they can do that serves the public, and educates people is valid in my eyes. There is, and may have always been a percentage of people who haven’t stepped into a library since they last were required to for school, but these people don’t realize that for years they could have gotten movies and music free there, maybe they have to wait on a list for it, but it beats blockbuster/netflix/redbox on price no matter what. Now the percentage of people who have no internet access(was ~50%, haven’t found good recent numbers) can get on the internet at libraries.

      1. Bob says:

        Kevin, I know that libraries are still useful. The posting I was referring to was speculating on how to keep them useful as printed material becomes obsolete.

        The charter and social contract for public libraries was that they would provide written material for free. I accept that providing digital information fits within that intent. But the proposal in the earlier post was that part of the buildings could be used for entirely different things like maker spaces or lending tools.

        That would be like building libraries in the 1800s for blacksmith shops or weaving looms. It’s clearly outside the intent of a library – then and now – and it would be wrong to start using taxpayer money to fund competition against private entrepreneurs.

  13. Gnomic says:

    1. Regular Mail get deliver to home addresses once a week. Saves gas, environment, costs.
    2 Express mail is delivered by drones ( er, flying. I’m not referring to current personnel). Pickup is also available.

    1. Phillip Torrone says:

      i REALLY like the drones idea!

    2. rocketguy1701 says:

      Drone-ority mail: “if it fits in the drone, it flies!”

      Gonna need a hexa or octo-copter…

  14. Tom says:

    How about a return of the kiosks that turned a post office into an unmanned facility? Those kiosks were great, you could ship packages at any time of the day and they were easy to use.

    Since they do have the largest fleet, what about offering vehicle testing for car manf? Those trucks log a lot of miles and go in all sorts of climates, seems like it’d be a great way to test new car and engine technologies.

    1. Mike says:

      We still have those here at ours… Service overall is pretty good, too, besides the overall “government employee” mentality that they all have, by nature.

    2. ameyring says:

      The kiosk idea is great, but why some USPS offices don’t have them stumps me. Lines can be notoriously slow, so bring the kiosks!

  15. macegr says:

    I’d pay USPS a monthly subscription to block all bulk rate advertising material. I’d bet a lot of other people would, too. They get insanely low rates, and account for a large volume of the material running through the system. I’ve never purchased anything from junk mail, ever. You can use to opt out of a lot of it, but much is unaddressed spam flyers and whatnot.

    When bulk mail is almost completely pinched off, then the USPS has a vast amount of excess sorting and transport capacity. I propose that they then offer an order fulfillment service, similar to what Amazon and various smaller companies offer. Businesses can pay to have USPS store, sort, pack, and ship orders through their system. It would be one-stop end to end and ridiculously fast.

    1. Phillip Torrone says:

      great idea, amazon-style-fulfillment and a subscription model to go “ad free”.

  16. Gary B. Watts says:

    Over 80% of my mail are ads. Instead of paying a carrier’s wages and pay for the gas to deliver the ads I’d be willing to have the post office deliver fewer days a week to save the costs.

    If you were receiving a package, they could deliver them separately like UPS does. A target route for packages would still save you on fuel since you wouldn’t be stopping on every block.

  17. Phillip Torrone says:

    why hasn’t anyone suggested licensing out the postal service brand to make the ultimate xbox game? there are missions, planes, cars, attack dogs, trucks… even segways.

  18. kevin says:

    How about have bulk rate mail at the least limited to certain days of delivery. Bulk rate gets lower rates because it has to be made for automated processing, and gets delivered to the post office basically presorted, mail for different areas is bundled together. My thinking is bulk rate mail could be held at the local sort level until either there is first class mail to be delivered, or gets delivered anyway on Wednesdays and Fridays.
    Part of the problem I think the postal service has, is that even with their advertising, people don’t realize that small packages are much cheaper through the postal service.

    1. Craig says:

      The problem with holding bulk mailings and only delivering on specific days is that many businesses want their mail delivered on a specific date to coincide with their advertised sales events.

  19. JonnyBoats says:

    How about encouraging people to use better bar codes, like QR codes to address letters? Many people and most businesses print envelopes rather than hand addressing them anyway.

    Then have mail deposit boxes at post offices that are like ATM machines, when you put the letter in the slot it would automatically scan the QR code and track every letter with a QR code in the system. The Post Office could then offer such value added services as immediately emailing the recipient that a letter was just deposited and is on its way. The deposit box could also print out a receipt, just like an ATM. This would also make possible real-time on-line tracking of every letter since the letters are scanned at processing centers anyway.

  20. Julie in Alaska says:

    Here in Alaska, the USPS is by far the most cost-effective means of shipping just about anything from the lower-48. On average, priority mail (4 days on average here) costs around 50% of UPS ground (which takes at least week or more.) I ship nearly everything I buy online (and that’s a _lot_ of stuff) by priority mail if its an option. If its not, I’ll go someplace else.

    One very simple solution that would help the USPS survive would be for more companies to offer their services. More and more its hard to find companies that use the post office. This needs to change. In exchange for offering USPS shipping, you increase your customer base to places where UPS and FedEx are prohibitively expensive. Simple as that.

  21. hspalm says:

    Why must mail be delivered at your door? Don’t know if it’s like this in the US, but here, if you receive a package or a letter that’s too big for your mailbox, you have to pick it up at your local post office. Why can’t you do that with every letter? This will not only encourage people to sign off paper mail, and ask their banks and whatnot to start using email (green thinking), but USPS could immediately exclude BIG wages. Yes, people would loose their jobs, but this is what’s happening to the industry each day. Sending text on a paper sheet by truck is really horrific.

    1. Craig says:

      So instead of having person and one truck go to 1000 addresses and delivering mail, you would have 1000 people and 1000 vehicles go to the post office to pick up the mail. Not a very green idea.

  22. Sandman says:

    I like the sensor data stream. Along those lines, The trucks could be used for pot hole detection.

    They could also collect billing data for the utilities if we had smart meters. The same smart meters could also deliver other data that could be used for early detection of issues such as drops in water pressure or unprecedented spikes in electrical usage. If the trucks were collecting usage data there is no reason the bills could not be printed in the trucks. (not everyone is on the web)This could cut the costs of printing and sorting bills at the main post offices. Since the data is gathered daily It could allow me to pick my pay dates and track usage data.

    The other thing I would love would be a grocery delivery service of non perishables. When I run out of soy sauce, I scan the label and every couple of days I get a box of things from my local grocer. I would not want them to deliver things like fruits and vegetables as I need to pick those out myself.

    One other thing is the trucks could detect if mail has been taken out of the box. So if my Grandmother has not picked up her mail in a day or 2 it would send me an email saying to give her a call something might be wrong or it would ask me if I am on vacation and If would like to stop delivery service.

    1. androiddna says:

      I love the idea of pothole detection- it falls back into the realm of government services, and therefore doesn’t compete with entrepreneurs.

      Why not use it for detecting missing reflectors, worn off stripes, burned-out traffic signal and street lights, etc. In places with public owned utility companies, it could be used to automatically read meters.

      Ooh, I know the government goes, though. That would quickly be turned into a parking-meter, speed limit, commuter lane violation detector or some other sort of annoying law enforcement revenue generator. Just what I need is another fleet of vehicles driving around, giving me a ticket every time a brake light burns out. Even worse, they might deliver the ticket to my house the same day. :-)

  23. John says:

    I like the street view idea. Instead of seeing what an address looked like a year and a half ago, you can see what it looked like yesterday. In addition, it wouldn’t be too tough to have good address synch, so “3155” is actually at the right building.

  24. Don says:

    I think the best “bang” for the buck is to decrease costs of delivering mail the “last mile”. In the cities this would including having mailboxes on one side of the street (where feasible) which cuts down driving time and distances which reduces gas costs (of course forcing residents to cross the street when safe).

    Living in rural Arkansas, we already have a handful of mailboxes (3-5) at intersections of some corners. It makes a lot of sense instead to have these bigger – say 40-100 mailboxes.

    You could even install sensors in the big gang mailboxes and when mail comes and you would know when to pick it up on the way from work. Better yet, FORCE all junk mail to use RFIDs or QCodes in them so then you’ll know when a your box is full of junk mail and not the good stuff!

    PS – FYI for those in rural America, in Kansas there are towns where there is NO home delivery. All mail goes to the Post Office and you pick it up yourself.

  25. Don says:

    A lot of time is used physically sorting the mail and physically putting it in the mailbox and/or drop slot or however you physically receive your mail.

    How about making USPS mini-containers instead of mailboxes ? Just like shipping containers revolutionized trans-oceanic vessels, this could do the same !

    Everyone gets a mini-container that fits enough mail in it for a day or two. The thing is micropowered so that it can electronically change addresses anytime and thus it knows the address it is keyed to. It has a GPS in it so you know where it is located at all times. The USPS programs the address and the sorting facility is all electronic and/or some hand work and the sorting facility puts the mail into these little containers. Then the mail carrier loads these boxes into their truck and drops them off into our mail container “slots” which could be a robotic type arm. They pick up the empty containers and it gets reprogrammed for the next day.

    The neat thing, is that this is extensible. What if *YOU* decide where (and perhaps when) your mail gets dropped off ! You want your home mail delivered to the office ? gym ? home ? girl friend’s house ? where ever ? No problem – you set it up (can change it) and off it goes on the trucks. Maybe the USPS charges when you move things around and such …

    PS – remember what another post mentioned, you currently buy your own mailbox but the USPS actually owns it. This is why it is a federal crime to put non-mail in a mailbox. The mini-container could play off the same thing. You don’t use the mini-container, the cost to *receive* your mail goes up, use the mini-container and get a rebate !

    1. Salocin says:

      The mini container idea is quite interesting, but a little materials intensive. I really like the idea about being able to change where your mail is delivered. Maybe we could get a light weight version of this feature.

      When a letter is mailed to you, instead of using an address, each person has a unique identifier (could be anonymous). Then you do a foursquare-style check in at a physical space. And that is where your mail is delivered.

      1. Don says:

        Not to material sensitive, remember most of us already have mail boxes that we have to purchase. Now quite a few folks mail slots so there there would be *some* new materials

  26. Mike says:

    I’m kind of surprised to see so many suggestions for having the all-seeing Google-y eyes even MORE involved in everything we do, including package/envelope traffic data and daily photos of our homes. Pardon me for being paranoid, but my house has 8-ft windows in front that aren’t always closed, which is fine for everyday traffic but it’s a scary thought that someone across the planet (or at Google HQ) might have the capacity to see a still image of the inside of my house refreshed every single day.

    I LOVE the idea of paying to stop the ads, though! That seems to have already become the standard for phone apps and shareware…

  27. lcoknits says:

    I think if they just charged a reasonable rate for the pre-sorted mail, they would have much more revenue. Some of my presorted mail comes with only 2 cents of postage while we pay 43 cents? My junk mail has arrived with only 8 cents of postage. So, if junk mail is the majoirty of revenue, all they need to do is raise the price of their postage.

  28. Ken Junkins says:

    1.) Junk mail should DEFINATELY be charged more. As it is now, direct marketers get a DISCOUNT for bulk mailing. The cost of this service is passed on to USPS users, not consumers of the products being advertised. Why should someone who sends me a sheaf of coupons that I don’t use four times a month be subsidised by my postal rates when I want to send a normal letter or card?
    2.) USPS should be the DEFACTO source for legal documents. This should have been approached years ago. While many documents can be encrypted and e-mailed in seconds anywhere in the world by anyone, the USPS should have set up dark room centers with un-copyable verifiable paper in printers that receive encrypted e-mail documents, prints them and seals them, and then pops them out for local carriers to deliver. Versus overnighting a legal document across the country (via ariplane and various ground transportation) this would be both CHEAPER and FASTER. Imagine someone in NY emailing a legal document to the local PO (seconds, no cost), who then further encrypts the file, and securely e-mails it to a LA PO (seconds, no cost), who then unencrypts the file twice (with the two seperately sent codes), prints the document on copyproof security paper in a dark room, sealed in an envelope and locally addressed, then given to a PO carrier to deliver locally to the LA office. This could happen in minuets (versus overnight) and the cost is the darkroom printing facility, the paper and the courier.

  29. nolebotic says:

    How about using some of the delivery vans as on-demand printing services. You log onto a website, upload your data and the mail man prints it for you in his van. They would print jobs every other street or something to reserve space. How cool would it be to see a partnership between USPS and project gutenberg for really cheap classic literature on demand?

  30. Laura Cochrane says:

    Providers of natural gas (like PG&E) should be required to install natural gas leak detectors on all USPS mail vehicles. It seems like a good solution to the problem of being able to identify natural gas leaks, because the trucks drive through every city and neighborhood in the nation, 6 days a week.

    1. Don says:

      Great Idea ! It would be good to have sensors that look for water leaks as well as dying transformers….

  31. MauiJerry says:

    Living in Hawaii (as noted by Alaska poster above) USPS Priority/FlatRate packages are a life saver. If a company will ship via USPS, I will use them over UPS/FedEx. The latter have a minimum of $50 shipping fee and it goes up quickly. It took some arm twisting (bit twiddling ’cause it was email) to get AdaFruit, SparkFun and MakerShed to do USPS for all but my larger orders (>$200, over size/weight). Now I use them rather than alternatives that wont do USPS.

    I like the sensor idea. It would be fairly trivial to put some weather+GPS recording data on each (several) trucks and upload it at the end of shift (no need for wifi/cell which would add cost, not be available for RFD). Some USGS or weather wonks could have a field day with the micro-climate research recording.

  32. mtbf0 says:

    hate to be a killjoy, but postal vehicles do not visit every address every day. letter carriers do. on a mounted, (archaic postalese for a route on which the carrier uses a vehicle), the carrier will park the vehicle and deliver as much as three or four blocks from a single location. (the post office cleverly calls this “park and loop.”) there are also foot routes on which the mail is deposited in large dark green storage boxes by a truck driver for the carrier to pick up and deliver.
    you could however mount sensors on the carriers themselves, then stand back and note the effects on an already slightly paranoid workforce.

  33. Julian Cook says:

    How about a variable postage rate ? I live in Washington DC and can send a letter to New York City and Nome Alaska for the same price? That doesn’t make any sense. How about 0.45 for NYC and 0.90 for Nome?

  34. bruce says:

    Since the USPS has an office in every town, has enforcement powers under Postal Inspectors, authorized to accept US Passport applications, lets update their role in the electronic age. Allow the USPS to establish verified email addresses that serve the same roll as certified mail for official notices and legal matters. Non-email users could have their messages printed and delivered.

  35. Laura Cochrane says:

    USPS should have a cloud printing service: send your documents and pick up the printed version at your local post office.

  36. Peter says:

    The USPS needs to create shipping rules that allows everyone down to the small Mom and Pop business to compete with Amazon Prime. If a package doesn’t have a strict deadline, the postal shipping load can be leveled out on a day to day basis. I can buy something from Deal Extreme and have it shipped from Hong Kong for free to the US. The current shipping rules are a problem.

  37. Rob says:

    Simple, allow USPS to sell advertising space on their vehicles and/or uniforms. It works for other Government-owned properties: Lucas Oil Stadium, Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, etc. (I’m from Indy). Could be an enormous revenue generator.

    Also, to comment on the makerspace and 3D printing comments, we must remember that most people have never heard of either (most people don’t even know how to open the hood of their car), and would probably not make use of them. While I would love a makerspace nearby, I can’t imagine it would be profitable.

  38. greg says:

    Maybe we can install a mass system of vacuum tube to deliver mail to every house in the country. This would be like installing oil pipes, compared to trucks. Should cut down on the number of people the mail service will need, the number of trucks.

    Install it underground.

    sometimes you need to think out side of the box

    1. phil says:

      Greg a pneumatic tube system for delivering mail was built in NYC in the 1890’s connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. It is still there but stopped being usec in nthe 1920’s.

  39. aleith says:

    Us Postal bonds to raise money for last mile internet. First class mail is basically an information delivery system.
    What we will save is package delivery. It is an imperative to US survival to pair down the postal service their carbon foot print is atrocious.
    In urban areas stop house to house delivery in internet dense areas scale back first class letter delivery and have package pick up at postal facility’s. Central hub locales.
    Issue a postal Zipcode barcode stencil and printing device think decoder ring for all zip plus first class mail charge high premium for every letter not bar coded.
    the fact is that of 80 million households today 47 million pay their bills electronically and that is set to rise by 10-15 million over the next couple of years need to shrink the number of employees and the barrels of oil used to make the system sustainable into the future. Separating information delivery and package delivery is the key. fiber optic is a better delivery system for information period.

    1. phil says:

      Alteith I live on Long Isalnd which is serviced by a hub that serves over 2 million people. Not sure how many households but it doesn’t make sense to have all those people some as many as 40 miles away,driving to that locale to pick up their parcels I pay bills online when possible however not all businesses are set up to receive electronic payments so my bank actually prints a check and mails it to the payee. I also think if all mail were electronically transmitted somewhere down the road those providing that service would start to charge a fee for the service if there was no Postal Service.

  40. Ralph says:

    Being an employee of the Postal Service for over 25 years, I believe that adding any new service is a waste of time when they can’t even get mail delivery right. I’ve been involved with route inspections for the last 7 years (yes, the guy that follows the carrier around)and you’d be surprised at how lazy and inefficient most of them are. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent carriers, but they’re far and few between. But when you have a carrier who uses an hour or more of overtime everyday and the random day that you follow, that carrier makes it in less than 8 hours, you know what’s going on. And the unions protect these people which lead me to believe that they’re not concerned with the longevity of the postal service but with how much money they can make. So I say, to save money, furnish post office boxes for free and let everyone come pick up their own mail. It’s secure from theft, it’s usually ready before 10 am and your packages won’t get stolen or wet. For those that still want home delivery, let them pay a premium based on the number of days they want it delivered. Then give those early retirement incentives and reduce the workforce and vehicle fleet significantly.

    1. mike jakopance says:

      Ralph the biggest problem with the po is dead weight such as your self, 200000 emploees gone gone since 2000 and increase in eas positions of 46 percent. We need more clerks and carriers in most parts of the country not less i know you sit at your computer screen all day and try to make carriers work harder, more deliveries in less time. Run Forrest run should be all sups. motto becus thats what you want.. Put down the clip board and actually earn your money for once.

  41. phil says:

    Ralph you mean the Postal Service pays supervisors to follow mailmen all day to see if they are doing their job right? If they stop delivering mail what would you do? Also does each post office have enough po boxes to serve their entire town or city? Would you have elderly people who have no way to get to their post office pay extra for delivery on a fixed income? I’ve heard most supervisors were among the laziest clerks and carriers who happened to know somebody who could get them a management position. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent supervisors, but they’re far and few between.

  42. Tacoma says:

    Would a profit sharing plan work? If unions recieved a percentage as well as employees, maybe productivity would increase with the refusal to defend any lazy dead weight.

    1. phil says:

      The Post Office is a not for profit institution. It is a service same as police, fire, etc. No profit-no profit sharing.

  43. Doug Johnson says:

    I have to admit that I don’t have a problem with no Saturday delivery. I have contended for a long time that they should move to every other day delivery. One batch of people would get Monday-Wed-Friday, another Tues-Thur-Saturday. And no, I don’t think it would save half, but in the neighborhood of 25-30%.
    You could pay extra for daily pickup and drop off…or make business districts daily and residential every other.
    But the fact is that the kind of stuff that you send through the mail, one day either way isn’t going to make a huge difference to…oh….anybody.

  44. Carol says:

    The USPS should market to US businesses that international customers prefer USPS mailed packages. Couriered packages get hit by border brokerage fees that USPS packages do not. UPS is particularly noxious to the point that I will not order from US companies that only ship UPS.

  45. Mikey Sklar says:

    A few thoughts from a maker who is totally dependent on USPS.

    Volume customers are special….It’s time for the post office to
    consider the usual silver/gold/platinum kind of program for people
    doing a lot of shipments. The post office is the only system I can
    think of that has no incentive programs for customers that spend
    tens of thousands dollars a year with them. Look at how airlines
    work with frequent flyer miles or credit card companies offer a
    percentage back. Even UPS and FedEx have business account deals.

    It’s ridiculous that the international tracking is so unaffordable.
    First-Class International and Priority Mail have minimal if any
    tracking beyond the US. The price to get into express international
    mail is so high that few makers would ever use that service. Makers
    need protection through tracking on the shipmets so international
    customers are not demanding refunds when things take too long to

    More penalties for using the Post Office in person. Right now there
    is a small fee for going to the post office and buying postage in
    person. That fee could be much larger based on how long the transaction
    takes. Eg. Filling out a international first-class mail slip to
    prague takes can take a lot of postal employee time assisting a
    customer. Let the uninformed customer pay for that time and be
    pointed towards ways of printing labels on-line.

    USPS should have a all platform postal printing system. The USPS
    website does allow some forms of postage to be printed, but it does
    not include the new Parcel Select and has never offered first-class
    international. USPS also has a horrible windows only app that can
    print the first-class international. Why not have one site that
    does it all? Since I’m primarly a mac user I have to keep a account
    with to print parcel select and first-class international.

    Let’s just outlaw the junkmail. Nobody wants it and companies have
    plenty of other ways to broadcast their buy more stuff signal.

    It is easy for mail geeks who ship daily to envision a thriving
    USPS in the next few years. When individual households are spending
    thousands of dollars a year on domestic and international postage
    how can mail volumes continue to shrink? It might just be that the
    micro businesses manufactoring or reselling goods can produce the
    volumes needed for the post office to do well.

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