T he U.S. Postal Service has a lot of fans.
And rightfully so. For just 39 cents, you can send a card or letter clear across the country. For a few dollars, you can mail a package to a loved one.
But many Tucsonans thought the Postal Service made a misstep when it eliminated the convenient take-a-number system Aug. 19.
In an effort to provide quicker service, the Postal Service no longer asks customers to pull a number from the little red machine and take a seat. Instead, they must get in line.
The Postal Service said the take-a-number system slowed things down. Tucson was one of the few places in the country still using it, said Rob Soler, the Postal Service’s local customer relations coordinator.
The busy holiday season is offering the first real test of the change.
“Initially, it was something new,” and there were many complaints, Soler said. “As we’ve gone along, we’ve made improvements. People have gotten used to it, and they appreciate the shorter lines.
“Since we’ve made the change, we’ve seen shorter waits in the lobbies.”
How much have wait times been reduced?
Those data aren’t available, Soler said.
Then what makes the Postal Service so sure wait times are shorter?
“Just by observation,” Soler said.
Hmm. I decided to do my own observing.
Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Dec. 15, I visited four post office branches.
The lines were – dare I say it? – short and moving at a brisk pace. People had their packages sealed and addressed before getting to the clerks, who seemed to be moving more efficiently when faced with a line of potentially cranky customers.
And folks with disabilities that leave them unable to stand in line could move directly to a designated window for immediate service.
“It seems to move faster because they are not looking around for people with the numbers,” said Chris Romero, 25, a store manager. “I thought there would be a long line today with the holiday coming, but it was not even 10 minutes.”
So, the Postal Service was right?
Not so fast. The majority of people interviewed either had no preference or preferred the old by-the-numbers system.
On Monday, the busiest day of the year for the Postal Service, I returned to two branches.
The lines were long. All but three of 14 customers polled said the numbers system was better. One preferred to stand in line. Two didn’t care.
“Don’t get me started, ” said Joyce Verburg, a retired 58-year-old who wore a “Bah humbug” Christmas sweatshirt.
“I always plan on waiting,” said Kay Wallace, a 48-year-old nurse. “I bring something to read. I bring my coffee. I’d rather be comfortable.”
I readily admit my bias on this one. I’d rather wait on a bench for 15 minutes than stand in line for 10.
I’m not elderly or disabled, but I am “height-challenged,” forcing me to wear heels of three inches or higher to make up for the vertical deficiency. It’s a physical challenge not conducive to standing for long periods of time on a hard tile floor.
Would any number of complaints persuade the Postal Service to return to the take-a-number system? ‘Cause I’ll start working the phone lines right now.
Nope, Soler said, because the new way is better.
He also said the Postal Service is always looking for ways to improve customer services.
So I’ve got good news for the post office. Among the customers interviewed, there was one point of clear consensus on how to better serve the public.
Frustrated at seeing some work stations empty, they made this request:
More clerks, please!
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.