Plaza mailbox saved for another day

Snail mail isn’t used as much these days as it used to be, since sending an e-mail or a text message is far more efficient. But signs indicate those familiar blue mailboxes aren’t going the way of the mechanical typewriter, at least not here in Sonoma, at least not yet.

Sonoma citizens recently noticed a few USPS collection boxes, such as the one on the corner of the Plaza near the Sonoma Barracks, had signs indicating they would be removed. But the post office recently switched direction, and decided that they’re here to stay.

Monica Wilson, postmaster for zip code 95448, had said that the local boxes were to be taken down due to low volume. But that decision were recently reversed: the boxes will be retained, but the collection schedule adjusted to make them more cost-effective.

Augustine Ruiz, USPS spokesperson for the Bay Area, said it’s not uncommon that collection boxes be removed due to a lack of letters or postage coming through. “We’ve suffered a tremendous loss in volume of first-class mail since 2006,” he said.

According to Ruiz, the common threshold for a collection box to be removed is fewer than 25 pieces of mail per day.

Paula Arguello, a letter carrier for 16 years, said she’s seen eight to 10 boxes removed since she’s been working for the Postal Service.

“Periodically the post office will do density tests for a week or two to judge if a box is being used or not,” Arguello said. Certain boxes received only a handful of letters each day, though she was unsure what the exact numbers were.

Arguello, who is also the shop steward for the NALC union, said she’s had customers worried by the signs that their mail wasn’t being picked up from collection boxes previously marked for removal, indicating there were indeed people who used them.

“If something isn’t there, they won’t use it, but why would you take away something you want people to use?” she said. “People are starting to send more by mail and there’s not as big of a push to streamline in the Postal Service.” The USPS used to find ways to become more cost-effective, but now the pressure is apparently off.

Though the post office has decided against removing the boxes, it’s not because they found that the volume of mail coming through them was higher – the decision was a practical one, since revising the pick-up times made the boxes more affordable.

Typically, someone would pick up mail from the collection boxes after 5 p.m, about 5:20 or so, Arguello said. The post office itself, however, closes at 5 p.m., with most letter carriers working a 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. Collecting mail from the boxes requires a letter carrier to stay much later on the job.

Instead of having a separate collection at the end of the day, letter carriers could instead pick up the mail from the boxes along their routes, saving time – and saving the collection boxes.

Arguello said the Postal Service may decide to change this system-wide. One main difference, if the post office goes this route, is that mail in the collection boxes will be picked up at varying times instead of the usual after-5 hour, so each box’s mail will have a different pick-up schedule.

Even though the collection boxes still don’t see as much volume as before, in a town like Sonoma small changes are big ones.

Arguello believes more people are sending real, paper letters nowadays.

“It’s definitely on the rise,” she said. “There’s nothing like delivering cards to people and seeing their faces light up – you can’t replace that with an e-mail.”