Chicago Cited for Failure to Deliver the Mail

U.S. Postal Service officials say that Chicago has the worst mail delivery of any major U.S. city. Efforts are being made to improve the situation, but frustrations are running high.

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Some other news now. This is a day that officials from the postal service explain what's working and what's not. In most large cities, the U.S. postal service can deliver a first-class piece of mail overnight without much trouble. In New York or Los Angeles or Detroit the overnight delivery success rate is 95 percent. And then there are cities like Chicago, where overnight in-town mail delivery is considered the worst in the nation.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: The old adage about the postal services' letter carriers making it through snow, sleet, rain, or cold to deliver the mail maybe true enough in some places. But Chicago Congressman Danny Davis says he's heard enough complaints about later missing mail to call for congressional hearings. Davis is chairman of the House committee that oversees the postal service and says today's meeting is one of several that will be held in order to make sure the post office is operating as efficiently as possible.

Representative DANNY DAVIS (Democrat, Illinois; Chairman, Congressional Postal Caucus): And that the services are provided in such a way that people are confident that they're going to be able to get mail delivered six days a week in a timely manner and in the condition that they'd want to receive it.

CORLEY: That's less true for Chicago than other big cities. A post office audit shows getting a letter across town in a day happens 95 percent of the time in most big urban areas, including Portland, Pittsburg, Houston, and Dallas. For Chicago, which has 2,500 delivery routes and 3,000 letter carriers, the overnight delivery percentage is 91 percent, the bottom of the heap.

Nick Dean(ph), who was dropping a letter in one of the mail boxes at a post office on the city's north side says he believes the ranking. Dean says he's often getting mail at his Chicago home addressed to someone else living in the suburbs.

Mr. NICK DEAN (Resident, Chicago): And that really surprised me. I go back to my - to the post office area where I go, on Kedzie over there. And they say, well, you know, that's probably one of our post office people. So I'm not putting them down, but they've become neglectful.

CORLEY: Another post office patron, Zemir Shabo(ph), says most times he has no complaints about Chicago's mail delivery, but during these past three months, his bank statement has gone missing.

Mr. ZEMIR SHABO (Resident, Chicago): And I checked with the bank. They said you got to check with the post office.

CORLEY: So that's why you're here today?

Mr. SHABO: Yes. And I'm very mad, because I don't know if somebody stealing my money. I want to check my statement to see what I'm doing, what I'm spending, what I, you know. I can't.

CORLEY: Eating lunch with a friend at a nearby pastry shop, Jessica Greenburg(ph) says the mail often comes late in the day or several days late. She and her neighbors have made formal complaints to postal officials.

Ms. JESSICA GREENBURG (Resident, Chicago): We've actually gone to talk to them a fair amount. They just don't have a regular person, and so what winds up happening. And I think if that they have somebody new to the route relatively regularly, and either they're learning the route or they're - I don't know. I mean, they're not been trained. I'm not sure.

CORLEY: It's become a frustrating situation even for Chicago's elected officials. Eugene Schulter is the alderman who represents this area.

Mr. EUGENE SCHULTER (Chairman, Committee on License and Consumer Protection): We sent out our newsletter in January - our (unintelligible) report - and it took one month for the people to get my newsletter. And that is absolutely outrageous.

CORLEY: Chicago experienced similar problems in the early 1990s; the last time mail delivery and customer satisfaction was the country's worst. This time, Alderman Schulter blames temporary mail carriers. He says since they aren't permanent employees, they don't have any vested interest in delivering the mail properly. Despite repeated requests from NPR, no one from the Postal Service was made available to interview for this story. But Congressman Davis says after meeting privately with the country's Postmaster General, John Potter, he knows that a shortage of personnel is the problem.

Rep. DAVIS: On any given day, there is subject to be eight to 10 percent of the carriers off work, on sick leave, who've been injured, or who have trying to get light duty because, you know, the work gets to be strenuous.

CORLEY: During a visit to Chicago last week, Postmaster Potter promised reforms. Two hundred more letter carriers for Chicago and more technicians to maintain mail-sorting equipment. There's also a new Chicago postmaster. The postmaster general has promised that Chicago will see big improvements in six months, erasing the city's dubious distinction of having the worst mail service among the country's major cities.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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