Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Calculating distances and closing post offices

I've written a lot this fall about the U.S. Post Offices of Newton County--and in particular the proposal to close six of the ten. Other posts are here and here. One issue that has arisen at various meetings between district Post Office officials and local patrons is the distance from each post office slated for closure to the nearest remaining post office. At recent meetings, local postal patrons have challenged the district official announcing this information about the distances in the official U.S. Post Office reports. I have yet to see a report of a distance that the U.S. Post Office has gotten right--at least no correct distances have been reported in the paper's coverage. Needless to say the distances announced by the post office official are usually shorter than the actual driving distances. My best guess is that the post office is providing "as the crow flies" distances. I know these are available on Internet sites--as, of course, are driving distances.

A patron at the meeting regarding the Vendor facility challenged the Post Office study statement that Jasper is just 5 - 6 miles from Vendor, asserting that the distance is in fact 11 miles. That patron elaborated that it is "five miles up hill and five miles down hill, with just one passing lane on that stretch of road." The patron asserted that the elevation goes from a low of 1,200 feet at Vendor to a high of 2,000 feet, before the road descends into Jasper.

Vendor residents also noted that if the post offices at Hasty, Vendor, and Mt. Judea (pictured above) are all closed, no post office would exist between Western Grove and Dover. That's a distance of about 65 miles. What the resident and the journalist do not mention is that the Vender and Mt. Judea post offices are less than 3 miles apart, which suggests to me that one of these two is sure to be closed. The Vendor patron also doesn't note that other post offices--like the ones at Jasper and Deer--are as little as 10-12 miles from points along the line between Western Grove and Dover that is currently dotted with post offices. So, no one in that service range is actually going to be quite as far from a post office as the 65 mile figure suggests.

Controversy like that at Vendor arose in Compton regarding the distance of the community and its post office from the nearest other post office. In Compton, part of the debate was over whether Compton is 14 miles or 22 miles from the post office at Harrison, and part of it was about the post office's distance from the post office at Marble Falls, which the district official said was 17 miles. The patrons' correction in this case related to passable roads, as the patron noted that Google details on the route indicated that it required travel on a closed road. As the patron noted, if you want to get from Compton to the Marble Falls post office, you have to go via Harrison or Jasper--in which case you might as well conduct your business at the Jasper or Harrison post office.

Postal patrons at those most recent meetings are also seeking information from Postal Service district representatives about why some post offices in the region have been taken off the list of those slated for closure. District officials have explained that the Witts Springs post office has been taken off the closure list because it has space to absorb the neighboring facility at Tilly, which is located within a grocery store, where space is tight. Presumably, then, the facility at Tilly will be closed.

The reasons stated for taking the St. Paul post office off the closure list are somewhat less clear. The Nov. 9, 2011 issue of the Newton County Times explains that the St. Paul facility is "one of seven offices along a stretch of highway. It was taken off the study list because it is centrally located and has adequate space. Closing it would not be reasonable, [the official] said." I see that St. Paul is on joint Hwy 16/23, but other communities on these highways in southern Madison (e.g., Witter, above left and Pettigrew above right) and northern Franklin and Johnson Counties are many miles away. So, the "one of seven offices along a stretch of highway" is not very illuminating.

One thing is clear in relation to these controversies. The U.S. Post Office should to be able to figure out this distance-to-the-nearest-post office issue. The data it has used in some cases in Newton County makes the institution look ignorant at best, dishonest at worst. And it ought to use distances that relate to passable roads--not "as the crow flies"--unless, that is, it plans to start using carrier pigeons.


Unknown said...
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KevinN said...

I wonder why the USPS is unable to properly calculate the distance between post offices? Mail delivery is done via car, meaning that driving distances should be the only distance that matters when making the calculations.

I also wonder why the post office hasn't simply decided to expand the services available to rural people facing the loss of a post office. If their new post office location will require a drive of say, 30 miles or greater, why can't the post office make sure that it delivers packages to those persons rather than forcing them to go to the post office to pick them up? I'm sure they could also create a home delivery system for purchasing stamps and other items the physical post office locations might sell. I doubt the costs of such a system would add much to the delivery costs currently associated with rural mail delivery, as postal workers would still have to make the drive to deliver mail anyway. Carrying a box or two in addition to the regular mail shouldn't be a deal breaker.