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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010

Adapt or die: USPS faces tough choices

If it were just a matter of weathering this recession, it would make more sense to raise the money needed to maintain Saturday postal delivery.

But it's not, and that's why it's time for a tough choice.

The U.S. Postal Service is going through the same wrenching upheaval as other legacy industries confronted by changing personal habits and cheap alternatives. Just as people have moved to the Web to get their news, music and video, they're also corresponding and paying bills online.

The recession has hastened the move by many businesses to knock off correspondence and go virtual by dumping direct mail.

Once businesses see they can live without that spending, they're likely to stick with the plan. Even when the economy improves, a lot of that postal income isn't coming back.

So the revenue future of the postal service looks pretty challenging and at the precise moment when so many employees, Baby Boomers all, will retire and run up pension and health care costs.

The long-term losses? An estimated $115 billion in 10 years. With that kind of hole to fill, canceling Saturday delivery, which could save $3 billion a year, sounds like a reasonable option.

Facing stiff union opposition, the postal service needs regulatory and Capitol Hill approval to move ahead. Congress must take the tough position tougher in an election year of supporting the USPS austerity plan.

The more daunting problem is to decide what sustainable form postal delivery can take in the next century. It's the same conundrum that's bedeviling other industries that hit their zenith in the last century and now must adapt or die.