Postal Service releases on-time performance reports for Q4 2015

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The Postal Service has released its on-time performance reports for the fourth quarter of the fiscal year (July 1 – Sept. 30, 2015).  

Compared to the third quarter, on-time performance for most types of mail has improved, but performance remains significantly down from the same period last year (SPLY) — before the changes in service standards and operations at processing plants went into effect on January 5, 2015.

For example, during the third quarter of FY 2015, single-piece First Class mail (SPFC) had an on-time performance record of 78.1 percent for 3-to-5 day mail.  During the fourth quarter, 81.9 percent of this mail was delivered on time, an improvement of almost 5 percent.

But compared to the same period last year, on-time performance for single-piece First Class mail with a 3-to-5 day delivery standard declined from 91.3 percent to 81.9 percent, a drop of 9.4 percent.  That’s also well short of the target of 95.3 percent.  

As seen on this table comparing Q4 2014 and Q4 2015 for 3-to-5 day SPFC mail, the districts with the biggest drop were Triboro (23.8%), Caribbean (22.6%), Colorado-Wyoming (15.2%), Houston (13.7%), and Northern New England (13.1%).

For presort First Class Mail with a 3-to-5 day service standard, performance is down from 94.8 percent for the SPLY to 91 percent for the fourth quarter of this year.  Periodicals are down from 83.3 percent for the SPLY to 77.5 percent for Q4 2015.  Periodicals and Package Services are also down from the third quarter, an indication that things aren't getting better for all types of mail.

Here’s a table summarizing the performance reports released yesterday:

Service Performance: Percent On Time
Category Q4 2015 Q3 2015 SPLY (Q4 2014) FY 2015 Annual Target
Single Piece First Class        
2-day 94.8 94.2 95.8 96.5
3-5 day 81.9 77.1 91.3 95.3
Presort First Class        
Overnight 96.2 95.8 97.5 96.8
2-day 94.9 93.9 97.3 96.5
3-to-5 day 91.0 88.7 94.8 95.3
Standard Mail        
Destination Entry 91.0 91.3 92.9 91.0
End-to-End 59.3 59.3 66.9 91.0
Periodicals 77.5 78.4 83.3 91.0
Package Services 84.9 87.1 83.3 90.0
Source: https://about.usps.com/what-we-are-doing/service-performance/welcome.htm

While the general public may not be looking at the numbers themselves, many people have been complaining that the mail is moving more slowly.  The drop in performance results has also received a lot of attention from the media, the mailers, members of Congress, and the unions (the APWU has taken the PRC to court over the issue).

The watchdog agencies are also taking note.  In August 2015, the USPS OIG issued a thorough report about the service problems and recommended a halt to plant closures until performance improves.  A more recent GAO report also addressed the service performance issues.

The concerns about delivery speed have led the Postal Service to slow down the plant consolidations, and it’s even possible that Congress will tell the Postal Service to roll back the changes in service standards that took place at the beginning of this year.  The House has already approved an amendment to restore the interim service standards that were in effect from July 2012 to January 2015.  That would restore overnight delivery to local mail and shave a day off of some 3-5 day mail. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it would cost $1 billion to restore the service standards, but that estimate seems to be mistaken, as explained in this previous post.  The CBO apparently based its calculations on the notion that the House amendment would require the Postal Service to restore service standards to where they were before July 2012, which would mean reopening plants that closed in 2012 and 2013. 

But the legislation would only restore the interim standards, which would simply mean returning to the way the plants were operating before January 5, 2015.  Very few plants have closed since January, and it would probably be possible to restore the interim service standards with the current infrastructure and at a relatively modest cost.  It's not as if the changes are saving very much money, since the estimated savings — about $750 million — were based on closing over 80 more plants and eliminating thousands of additional jobs, neither of which has happened, at least not yet.

Senator Carper's iPOST bill (Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act of 2015) also has a provision (section 201) that would explore the feasibility of rolling back the service standards, and it seems to address the cost issues raised by the CBO.  It directs the PRC to commission a study that would examine, among other things, "the resources needed, structural and operational changes needed, and market demand" for a return to the interim service standards.

The new performance reports can be found in pdf format on the USPS website here, and a more complete data set in spreadsheets can be downloaded from the PRC website here.  (Previous reports can be found on the PRC website here.)  For easier viewing, we’ve uploaded the PRC version of the Q4 reports to Google Docs, here.

It should be noted that the numbers in the two data sets aren’t exactly the same.  For example, for single-piece First Class, the pdf version says 3-5 day mail had a performance of 81.9 percent; in the spreadsheet version shared with the PRC, it says 83.1 percent.  It’s not clear why these discrepancies occur.

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