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MailboxIn the town where I live people don’t like the shortage of parking at the U.S. Post Office and so a proposal was born to tear down a nearby house and create an expanded parking lot. A debate has now arisen over the merits of tearing down the house, whether it is historic or not, and what alternative uses could be made of the house. To me, the focus is on the wrong issue. Why are so many people compelled to drive to the Post Office in the first place?
For the foreseeable immediate future, there will be a need for postal offices but of all the things that people go there for, many of the needs could be fulfilled by alternative means. I suspect nearly all the people who visit the post office have a computer, an Internet connection and a printer. Both the U.S. Postal Service and Stamps.com offer very easy to use online postal services. You can print your own labels and your own postage, including Priority Mail and even international shipping. You can add delivery confirmation which can then be tracked at usps.com and you can request emails whenever status of package changes. You can also buy all the labels, boxes, and tape online. A simple food scale can provide the weight. For larger packages you can stand on the bathroom scale with and without your package and with some quick arithmetic you get the package weight. After preparing your package you make a request at USPS.com and the package will be picked up at your front porch. For a feee you can even have it picked up on demand. If you do a lot of shipping you can get a nice digital scale and a Zebra thermal printer that makes the 4" x 6" labels you see on your inbound packages. If you put your mind to it you can avoid 90% of your trips to the post office. If we all avoided even a much lesser percentage of trips, I am sure we would not need a new parking lot. I have been using online postage for more than five years and have been more than satisfied with it.
There is also more that the post office could do to alleviate the parking problem. Two weeks ago I sold my Palm Treo 700P phone (replaced by the iPhone) on eBay. On the day the package was to be shipped I was in New York City for a board meeting. I took the package along but wasn’t watching the time and suddenly I realized it was just past five PM. The bellman at the hotel told me about the 24×7 post office at 421 8th Avenue. The cavernous building had machines resembling ATM banking machines but with a scale. You place your package on the scale, swipe your credit card, and follow the instructions on the screen. After the postage is printed out you place your package in a bin and you are finished. 24×7. Although not all 24×7 there are many automated postal centers in Connecticut with extended hours. (There is even an Automated Postal Center at an Albertson’s supermarket in Las Vegas). If there is a will, there is a way to put one of these automated machines in the Ridgefield post office building.
Between usps.com, stamps.com, and an automated postal machine Ridgefield should be able to easily avoid building another parking lot. Long before our tax dollars would be amortized for the life of parking lot, most people will do most transactions online. The technology is available now. Just think how good you will feel putting a stamped and ready to go package on your front porch and then do something else you want to do instead of driving downtown and waiting for a parking place.