© 1993 Williscroft
Have you noticed lately that you can no longer drive up to your friendly post office drop box and deposit your mail at the curb—unless there is a specifically designated drive-up location that takes your car out of the normal traffic pattern? Did you just cuss out the post office and accommodate the inconvenience? Did you ask anybody why the boxes were moved?
Well, I did. What I learned is nothing short of astonishing.
A good citizen in a small rural town pulled up to the post office drop box to deposit some mail. I don’t know whether this person was in a hurry, simply not very observant, got up on the wrong side of bed that morning, or is just plain stupid. In any case, without looking, the lady pulled directly into the street from the box—and got whacked by an oncoming driver who had no idea that she was going to pull out like this.
Naturally, she sued—after all, it’s an old-fashioned American tradition. But did she sue the driver who hit her? You know better than that.
She claimed that the post office was at fault for creating an unsafe traffic condition. Never mind that she hadn’t looked before she pulled out. Never mind that the drop box had been in that location for years without even one other accident worth noting.
I don’t know whether or not she won her lawsuit—but I do know what the post office did about the problem, and so do you.
At my post office a worker traveled thirty miles, spent three hours moving two drop boxes, and then traveled back thirty miles. Based on a fairly good understanding of government accounting, I estimate that this operation cost just under $500.
There are 29,487 post offices in the United States. If we assume that about 25,000 of these do not have special “safe” drive-up locations, then simple arithmetic indicates that this knee-jerk reaction by the post office has cost the American taxpayer $12.5 million.
Incidentally, in trying to run down these figures, I discovered that nobody in the postal system has any idea how many post offices were affected by this order. I could discover how many post offices there are total, and I could even get detailed delivery statistics on each post office, but nobody seems to know how many drop boxes were moved.
For a small fraction of the money spent making these silly modifications, government attorneys could have successfully defended the post office against this frivolous lawsuit, maybe even stuck the attorney who took it on with an interesting counter suit.
As it is, however, not only are we all out some $12 million, but now to mail a letter we also have to park the car, get out, and walk through whatever the weather is doing to drop the letter in the outside box, or take several more steps to the inside slot—don’t you just love it? I shudder to think what will happen should someone slips on the sidewalk in front of one of these relocated boxes.
How long do you think it will be before somebody figures out how much more the post office can save by removing these boxes altogether, and asking the public to deposit mail in the slots inside the post office lobby?
An old saying comes to mind: There is a cure for ignorance, but stupid is forever.