Addressing a delegation of representatives from the United States Postal Service, Barnaby Wittels provided a possible overview of community sentiments related to the East Falls Post Office.
“I recognize the postal service is under enormous strain, budgetary and otherwise,” said Wittels, first vice-president of the East Falls Community Council.
“What I get from the post office,” he continued, contrasting USPS service with private concerns, “is that we’re trying, but we’re not really sure that we want your business.”
“When I walk to [the East Falls] post office, I’m persuaded that you don’t want my business,” he added.
Collecting local complaints
After months of rescheduling, Philadelphia Postmaster Howard Sample was present at Monday evening’s EFCC meeting to respond to a slew of concerns related the East Falls Post Office, located on the 4100 block of Ridge Ave. near the twin spans of the Rt. 1 expressway.
In 2012, EFCC President Tom Sauerman began soliciting community comments and stories related to the beleaguered facility in response to years of complaints, some of which appeared on various internet forums. The stories Sauerman received dealt primarily with staffing at the installation, but also included incidents of lost mail, shortage of materials, and concerns about management.
Sample, a Philadelphia native and 29-year USPS veteran who was appointed to his position in September, underscored the problems his organization is facing nationally, referencing the loss of an estimated $20-25 billion per year and problems associated with a shrinking workforce.
However, he said that he maintains a professional reputation of working with communities, and signaled a commitment to work with residents.
However, in East Falls, Sample acknowledged, “We haven’t done that well enough.”
Availing themselves of an open floor, residents expressed a variety of sentiments ranging from mailbox flag regulations to larger-reaching issues of postal practice. Most dealt with the topics of material availability, delivery issues, and the appearance of the Ridge Ave. facility.
On the minds of many were stamps and their availability. Several speakers said that upon inquiry they were told that the stamps they sought – be they in large quantity, commemorative, or in less-used denominations such as the 17-cent stamp – were not available for their purchase.
Some also lamented the availability of stamp vending machines and questioned why newer-automated postal centers (APC’s) were not available.
In response, Donna Graham-DiLacqua, marketing manager for the USPS’s Philadelphia metropolitan district, said that the postal service is transitioning from the vending machines to online and mail-ordered stamp services. Sample noted that vending machines, in general, are being removed due to costly maintenance issues.With regard to APC’s, DiLacqua indicated that their presence is connected to credit and debit card usage statistics. Their placement is more typical of larger post office branches.
However, Sample was unequivocal about the presence of postage.
“We’re the post office,” he said. “We should have stamps.”
Issues with misdelivered mail, money orders and parking
Still other concerns about the branch persisted: misdelivered mail, appearance, problems with money orders, and parking.
With regard to parking, Sample said that this issue was outside of their authority, but indicated that they would look into a short term-parking space for the site. Solving the problem of cashing money-orders proved to be more vexing, as Sample replied that post office branches are limited in the amount of cash on-hand.
Complaints in regard to misdelivered mail took two forms: unheeded hold-mail requests and persistent misdelivered mail. While residents offered a short-term solution of holding mail online rather than through paper-based requests, Sample suggested that any observations of misdelivered mail should be brought to the attention of USPS management, explaining that systems are in place for timely remediation of such mistakes.
While many of these problems could be addressed though existing management procedures, the appearance of the facility itself will likely be a more complex issue.
Of particular concern to postal customers was the bullet-proof glass inside the site, along with the general condition of the building’s interior and exterior, summarized by one resident who said, “The front-end looks like the back-end.”
Sample replied that renovation is improbable, and that the presence of the glass was based upon a USPS security audit. Asked if it could come down, Sample said that it was unlikely but the request could be reviewed.
Praising the USPS for the hard-working and friendly employees who are in abundance in his neighborhood, Wittels said the problem at the East Falls site was one of “perception.”
“I think the post office in our community is out of step with the community,” he said. “We’re not where we were twenty years ago when you needed that bullet-proof glass.”
In response, Sample told those present that he wanted their business.
While not making definitive commitments in regard to the building’s appearance – he indicated that he would request an audit in regard to the bullet-proof glass – Sample told those present that the USPS needed feedback from the community in order to take appropriate actions.
To assist with this, Sample and his staff committed to placing relevant contact information at the site by week’s end.
“If you give that feedback to us, it will be responded to,” he said. “It will be addressed.”