Mel Evans/AP

Regulatory commission accepts plan to cut back service at rural post offices

Proposal is 'consistent with public policy,' PRC says.

A U.S. Postal Service regulatory agency has signed off on USPS’ proposal to adjust retail window and service hours to avoid post office closures.

The Postal Regulatory Commission issued an advisory opinion Thursday that found the plan “to be consistent with public policy,” but acknowledged it “may reduce retail service and customer convenience at post offices by reducing weekday hours of operation.”

PRC Chairwoman Ruth Goldway stated: “With the Postal Service’s assurances, as documented in this advisory opinion, the commission believes that adequate retail access will be preserved throughout the nation.”

USPS’ Post Office Structure Plan, first unveiled in May, seeks to reduce retail window hours of operation at more than 13,000 post offices nationwide, limiting them to six, four or two hours per weekday.

PRC, which is required to issue advisory opinions if the Postal Service’s actions constitute a nationwide change in service levels, also issued recommendations “to enhance the implementation” of the plan, including: waiting to reduce retail hours until “necessary modifications to buildings and/or operations” have been made, issuing an instructional memorandum to area vice presidents and district managers to explain the efforts USPS made to “locate qualified staff and successfully negotiate a lease before overriding a community’s preference for a POStPlan with realigned hours,” and developing an internal review and data collection plan to evaluate whether the initiative is meeting its goals.

The commission also recommended a USPS customer preference survey at the targeted locations, offering citizens a choice between keeping their post office open with reduced hours or closing the post office and providing replacement delivery service. The Postal Service initially cited cutting operating hours as a way to avoid closures. PRC noted in a statement that USPS has emphasized “that it generally will not close offices unless a community expresses a strong preference for discontinuance.”