PORTLAND, Maine — Fifty-five small Maine post offices have implemented reduced hours as part of the United States Postal Service’s attempt to save money. Nearly 200 more will follow suit by the end of 2014.
Across the country, the United States Postal Service considered reducing hours at its more than 31,000 retail locations in order to save money. About 13,000 were selected for reduction with 244 of those locations in Maine.
“The postal service is facing historic challenges,” Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service Northern New England District, said in an email Friday. “We’ve lost more than $25 billion since 2007. Over the last 10 years, first class mail has declined by more than 50 percent. This has led us to a situation where our postal network with 31,000 facilities is too large for the amount of mail we process and revenue we take in.
“We are trying to make practical business decisions and serve our customers at the same time.”
On May 9, USPS announced that the selected retail post office locations that regularly have eight hours of counter service will be reduced to six or four hours.
In Maine, the postal service is drastically cutting the window hours of six locations — Cliff Island, Dryden, East Livermore, Kingman, Caratunk and East Vassalboro — from eight hours to only two. Cliff Island, Dryden and East Livermore have already adopted the new hours.
Seven locations are cutting retail hours from six hours a day to two including East Parsonsfield, Danville, East Poland, North Waterford, Bowdoin, Crouseville and East Newport.
Community meetings at each post office will be held before the new hours go into place. More than 50 post offices in Maine have had such meetings.
Twenty-six are planned for Jan. 7-10. The time changes go into effect 30 days after each meeting.
Marian Townsend of Newport stopped by the East Newport location Saturday morning.
“I don’t think any post office should be open for only two hours a day,” said Townsend. “I’m from the old, old school, I guess. They used to stay open all day.”
She added that the reduced hours wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience for her as there’s a post office on Main Street in Newport only a few miles away.
Rizzo said the changes only affect counter service. People will still be able to gain access to the lobby and post office boxes.
“The plan keeps existing post offices in place, but with modified retail window hours to match customer use,” said Rizzo. “Access to the P.O. boxes would remain unchanged, and the town’s ZIP code and community identity would be retained.”
Once the project is finished in the fall of 2014, it will save USPS $500 million a year.
From 2005 to 2011, nationwide customer retail visits to post offices dropped by 27 percent, from 1.28 billion in 2005 to 930 million in 2011, according to USPS. Of the rural post offices, 88 percent are losing money.
“We believe this is a fair and viable solution that will help serve our customers and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability,” said Rizzo.
Many of the locations being affected are one- or two-person operations, he said.
“Work hours are being aligned to reflect reduced customer use,” Rizzo said. “This reduction in work hours along with many of our veteran postmasters taking early retirement is our strategy going forward in this plan.”
An earlier version of this story contained an error. Once the project is finished in fall 2014, the two-year process will save USPS $500 million, not $500,000. Also, Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service Northern New England District, said Wednesday that only five post offices have actually reduced their hours so far, but 46 more will have their hours reduced by the end of January. Post office hours are reduced no sooner than 30 days after each public meeting the Postal Service holds in local communities. The process of reducing the hours of another 200 post offices in Maine will continue through 2013.