Post Office

Try as some might to avoid the rest of humanity, there are two places where you’re obliged to spend time with them – post offices, and planes. Nice segue into a weblog post about both, eh?
(well, the one about planes might have to come a bit later)

I had to pick up a special delivery from the post office this morning. Since the sorting office is about one minute from my flat, you wouldn’t think this would bother me. On the contrary, receiving one of those ‘the postman visited and you weren’t in’ slips fills me with dread. See, the sorting office serves a reasonable chunk of Clapham, and given that Clapham is full of recent graduates and young professionals who like nothing better than ordering lots of stuff off the internet, there’s always a lot of mail.

Now, this wouldn’t automatically mean that the sorting office should be bad – just because there’s a lot of people using a service doesn’t mean it should be a bad experience… unless you have about twenty people all queuing up to collect parcels, and only one person serving them. After I’d been waiting in the queue for about fifteen minutes, someone asked one of the post office workers whether it would be possible to have more people working on the counter. “Sorry, already had staff cuts, we just can’t afford it,” was the answer.

Under such circumstances, you’d think that the response would be to work out an efficient sorting mechanism so that the one person at the counter would at least be able to serve people quickly. Unfortunately, judging by the highly variable search times for individual packages, I can only assume that they’re employing a serial, random search pattern (i.e. packages just chucked randomly onto a shelf).

All of this amounted to a 30 minute wait to pick up a letter. Multiply that by the number of people who use the sorting office, and you have dozens – maybe a hundred – hours wasted per day. Of course, I doubt the sorting office has any intention or real obligation to improve waiting times – not only does the post office have a monopoly on domestic mail, but they apparently have very little oversight.

In light of the recent protests over the closure of thousands of post offices in rural areas, many of which only received a few customers per week, my experience this morning highlights the fact that a one-size-fits-all policy cannot possibly work for mail delivery in the UK. I can understand, partly, the logic of post offices in metropolitan areas subsidising those in rural areas, but not when the result is chronically underfunded and inefficient post offices in those same metropolitan areas, which end up costing an awful lot of money to the economy.

Unless the government or the post office can improve its service, then the only answer is privatisation. I would willingly pay more in order to avoid wasting hours in queues, but only if that money goes to improving the services that I actually use.

3 Replies to “Post Office”

  1. One of the things I love about mail in Korea is that you generally get things sent to your workplace, not your apartment, because, well, getting it sent to your apartment can be less trustworthy, and sometimes stuff disappears, and anyway, everyone gets stuff sent to work.

    So while I’m only in my office and home at irregular times, that doesn’t matter; whatever needs to get delivered gets brought to my Department office. And I can even provide the office phone number since, although I can explain how to get there in Korean, the delivery guys always seem to have trouble with my accent.

    So no matter what I order, I just get these happy little surprises in my workplace office, when I come in to check my mail. I haven’t had to wait in line for a parcel once in the five years I’ve been here. Which is lovely.

  2. Ugh. Yes. Wherever possible I get everything I order delivered to work – I’m not always in the office, but I do know that it’ll save me a lot of hassle!

    Near me, the sorting office also has only one staff member. It’s a fairly small office, with shelves all over the wall with parcels peeking out. But whenever I queue for a parcel, they never even look at the shelves next to them – they take your slip, stare at it for a bit, and then wander off through a doorway from which they reemerge with a package (and a triumphant expression) many minutes later.

    However, I must say I still prefer it to the private delivery companies. Whenever I’ve missed one of those parcels, a redelivery elsewhere (even if I have to pay) is vastly preferable to a long trek out to a “regional center” (for the entirety of north london, natch) where the queue is even worse.

    That’s when they actually attempt to deliver. CityLink, I’m looking at *you*.


    I love planes, though 🙂

  3. Get your voice heard – the rural post office network –

    Everyone has a view on the future of the rural post office network – but will everyone’s views be heard? Perhaps you have a good idea on the future of the network; perhaps your own experience shows a vital aspect has been over-looked.

    So, don’t be left out: go to state your views and have an impact on the future of post office services in rural areas.

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