Snail mail has always had a bad rap. But you think we had it bad till now? It might soon get a whole lot worse.
A word of caution: This is a global trend and not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. The advent of the Internet, email, assorted social networks and cellphone messaging applications has expectedly hit traditional mail services hard, and this is true everywhere. By and large, most people nowadays no longer rely on written letters as their primary mode of communication.
The inevitable upshot is that most postal services the world over are sinking ever deeper into the red and struggling to keep going. Israel is no exception.
To confront some of the 21st century’s changes, a commission headed by Dr. Ziv Reich was appointed to put together proposals to reform our postal services. It recently presented its finished product to Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
If approved, those reforms will burst into our reality with a bang. For one thing, the Reich Commission recommends cutting down postal deliveries from the current five days a week to a mere two, and that only in the afternoons. This is supposed to shave NIS 80 million off the state budget.
Most registered mail and parcels will be home-delivered by messenger service, for which the addressee will be required to pay.
Many post office branches will close down, and some of them may be replaced by privately operated postal agencies that will be located inside stores, such as supermarkets (this arrangement already exists in many countries).
Per force, this would mean large-scale layoffs, and the unions are already threatening action to forestall the looming dismissals.
If the Reich Commission’s proposals are implemented, the various postal facilities will operate under “flexible” opening hours – basically according to the discretion of the franchise licensees. Moreover, the requirement to empty out the red sidewalk mailboxes at regular hours and at least once a day will be obviated; this, too, will become subject to arbitrary local decisions.
The only sweetener for the general public is an instruction that somehow the branch operators will have to make sure that no customer is obliged to wait on line for more than 10 minutes to reach the counter.
How well this can be enforced is a matter of conjecture.
In all, however, the odds are that we would be able to count less and less on regular and prompt mail deliveries even in the two days assigned to such deliveries.
Furthermore, we would have to shell out for special deliveries, which is how any outsized or registered items of mail would be classified. This might prove particularly problematic to those who receive unrequested material whose dispatch they cannot control.
IF ALL this appears draconian, our displeasure might be cooled by comparisons. Canada’s cost-cutting plans, for instance, involve scrapping all home mail deliveries, which would leave the entire vast country (with its many remote communities) without door-to-door services.
The only exceptions will be limited categories of businesses. Even residents of large metropolitan centers won’t be getting mail through their letter boxes anymore.
We might be tempted to argue that the demise of postal services as we have known them is no big loss.
Cyber-technology has taken care of personal communication, and private delivery conglomerates are competing for the business of conveying important legal or business documents as well as the vastly increased traffic in parcel shipments (one of the results of the online shopping boom).
Nonetheless, this constitutes a perturbing regression to what existed before the mid-19th century, when addressees were required to pay for mail sent to them.
The postage stamp was invented to redress precisely this inequity.
Recipients will now be required to pay indeterminate sums for items they receive by mail – whether those items were solicited or not, whether they are valuable or worthless – even though the postage was prepaid at the point of origin.
Requiring remuneration from passive addressees is disgraceful, especially in a country full of immigrants with ongoing ties abroad.