Hauling the mail took on a new meaning Saturday when items normally processed, or “canceled,” in Johnson City began instead a trek to Knoxville for that purpose.
Most people knew the change was coming. What they didn’t know was that the United States Postal Service had moved up the times at which mail is removed from drop-off boxes by several hours, prompting inquiries to the Johnson City Press this week.
“No, we did not send any notice,” USPS Corporate Communications Specialist David Walton said Wednesday when asked if the public had been notified. “We did post the new times on the boxes.”
Callers were concerned that the times — which are now hours earlier than normal — would cause bills to be received late and possibly affect business negatively. Walton said the times have been changed on all drop-off boxes with those people whose ZIP code begins with 376. The area stretches from the southern edge of Sullivan County to the south eastern edge of Unicoi County.
“I checked, and we are not required to notify customers,” Walton said later after a request for more information. “We only are required to put the times on the blue boxes.”
He could not say specifically what the pick-up times are for various areas, only that the they are earlier as you get further away from Johnson City.
“The mail at the boxes is picked up from noon to 3:30 p.m., depending on where the box is,” he said. “Those times apply to Saturday, as well. We begin early and work our way toward the city. The drop-off sites within the post offices also have changed. Mail at these sites will be picked up between noon and 3:30.”
Mail dropped off at the drive-up box at Johnson City’s main office on East Main Street used to be removed and processed at 2 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. Now it is handled once, at 3:30 p.m.
He also said if customers deliver mail in person to a teller at one the area’s three offices, the materials will be processed before closing time. That includes the main office in Johnson City (5 p.m.), the Carroll Reece Station (7 p.m.) and the Gray Station (5 p.m.)
Walton told the Press in 2011 the plan might mean the mail would travel farther, but people should expect delivery times to stay close to the same.
At the end of last month, Maureen Oudt was promoted to Johnson City postmaster.
“People don’t need to worry, we’ll do our part to make sure people in Johnson City won’t feel any effect at all,” she said at the time.
As of Saturday, many Johnson City residents began mailing letters headed only blocks away that must now make the trip to Knoxville before it returns here.
A 2011 “Area Mail Processing” study involves a review of the mail processing and transportation operations to determine capacity needs within the postal network in order to increase efficiency and improve productivity.
The USPS’ annual mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to decline. Total first-class mail has dropped 25 percent and single piece first-class mail — letters bearing postage stamps — has declined 36 percent in the same time frame.
Should the economy fully recover, the postal service does not expect mail volume to return to previous peak levels, and it is projecting annual deficits for the foreseeable future.