If you were to find that the lock on your front door was unreliable and were worried that burglars might break in, you would probably want to replace the lock. The process would involve removing the old lock and having a new one installed.
It probably would never occur to you to remove the old lock—and then to board up your front door and start entering and exiting your house through a window.
But while this approach to handling a faulty lock would probably never even occur to most people — or would prompt a fair amount of eye rolling—that was how the U.S. Postal Service handled the problem of faulty mailboxes on the city’s streets.
Old mailboxes on the streets of Riverdale and other neighborhoods were susceptible to theft. This particular type of theft, known as mailbox fishing, usually involved taking an object such as a plastic bottle or a milk carton, covering it with glue, tying it to a string, lowering it into a mailbox, moving the string around a bit —a little like fishing—and pulling the object back out, with pieces of mail stuck to the glue.
What the thieves later did with valuables, such as personal checks, they fished out of a mailbox depended on the thieves’ imagination or on the extent to which they could bring high-tech elements to the low-tech crime of mailbox fishing. Some thieves might try to erase the name of the recipient to whom a stolen check was made out and to write in a different name instead. Others might try to collect personal information from stolen correspondence and use it, for instance, for opening a credit card in another person’s name.
Whatever the subsequent actions of thieves, mailbox fishing saw a spike in recent years. A lot of mail was getting stolen. A lot of people were affected. Mailbox fishing needed to be curbed.
So, the old mailboxes had to be replaced with newer models that would offer better protection against thieves, the Postal Service said. That made perfect sense, just as replacing a faulty front-door lock with a stronger model would make sense.
What followed made a lot less sense. The Postal Service removed most of the mailboxes from the streets. And left things at that. People who need to mail a letter or a rent check now need to travel to the post office—or, if they are lucky enough, just a few blocks to one of the few surviving mailboxes.
The Postal Service boarded up the door and told everybody to start using windows. The mailboxes have been gone for months. Among the few have survived the removal, some saw their lids replaced this month with a solid piece of metal with only a narrow slit—too narrow to put a plastic bottle through it—but the ones that were removed remain gone, and the Postal Service has shown no intention of bringing them back any time soon. That might be a mere annoyance to many people, but traveling to a post office becomes hazardous or impossible to those who are elderly or have disabilities.
Like mailbox fishing, the Postal Service is not a particularly modern or high-tech operation. Nor is it a particularly efficient one: In the fiscal year 2016, the Postal Service reported a net loss of nearly $5.6 billion.
Announcing the losses last year, Postmaster General and CEO Megan Brennan said that in order “to drive growth in revenue and better serve our customers,” the Postal Service would “continue to invest in the future of the Postal Service by leveraging technology, improving processes and adjusting our network.”
“In 2016, we invested $1.4 billion, an increase of $206 million over 2015, to fund some of our much-needed building improvements, vehicles, equipment and other capital projects,” Brennan said in a November statement.
Somehow, it seems, installing new mailboxes did not make the cut.
The Postal Service’s operating expenses for the fiscal year 2016 stood at $76.9 billion. Apparently, the money only stretched far enough to cover the removal of old mailboxes, but not the installation of new ones.
A “material part of our operating costs,” according to the Postal Service’s 2016 financial report, were fuel expenses. It was not clear how much the Postal Service has saved on fuel after it removed the mailboxes, along with the need for postal workers to travel to the boxes to pick up mail.
The Postal Service should bring street mailboxes back. Forcing elderly or disabled residents to trek to a post office, especially along the snow-covered streets in winter, does not qualify as an attempt to “better serve our customers.”