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Chicago still struggles to get overnight mail delivered

CHICAGO IL - MARCH 5:  A mail carrier loads his truck March 5 2013 Chicago Illinois. The worst winter

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 5: A mail carrier loads his truck on March 5, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The worst winter storm of the season is expected to dump 7-10 inches of snow on the Chicago area with the worst expected for the evening commute. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 163306909

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:05AM



Tony DeMaria sent his first batch of wedding invitations to friends in Chicago on a Tuesday. It didn’t get there until Thursday.

“You should expect to get that invitation inner city by the next day,” DeMaria said. “I can hand deliver that myself, but I’m paying 45 cents to have them deliver it.”

Five years after the U.S. postmaster general visited the city to demand improvement in mail delivery, Chicago is still struggling to get overnight mail delivered on time.

Last year, mail sent between city ZIP codes between January and March made it to the correct address by the next day 94.5 percent of the time — which doesn’t sound quite bad — but placed Chicago at the bottom of the heap nationally.

Chicago ranked 66 out of 67 nationwide districts between April and September. The latest numbers from October to December last year show in-town letters were delivered overnight 92.7 percent of the time, according to U.S. Postal Service audits.

Nearly all metropolitan cities in the U.S., except for in New Jersey and New York fared better.

Mail woes are nothing new to the city. In 2006 and 2007, mail was often delivered to the wrong address, or as late as 11:30 p.m. In early 2007, in-town letters were delivered overnight just 89 percent of the time.

In 2007, demands for change from aldermen, congressmen and Postmaster General John Potter resulted in the hiring of 500 new mail carriers, an overhaul of mail-sorting machines and training of delivery supervisors.

The result? Letters mailed from one Chicago ZIP code to another got there by the next day 96 percent of the time between July and August 2010.

At the same time, mail service in Chicago and across the country has changed. Single-piece first class mail, or stamped mail is now just 15 percent of total mail. Nationally, it’s down 37 percent since 2007. Chicago is the best for one thing, advertising mail. Yes, the postal service would like to boast Chicago is the national leader for delivering your pizza coupons and business ads on-time.

But Chicago USPS spokesman Mark Reynolds says there are a number of reasons why the city’s delivery of stamped mail was not at its best last year.

He cited big moves for carriers as USPS worked to reduce expenses. Two large carrier units were sold as part of the sale of the Old Post Office, moving carriers out of the Loop station.

“We moved all of those carriers — we’re talking a number of routes — into our main processing plant in the Main Post Office. And we moved some other equipment around and changed some operations so we could have room in it,” Reynolds said. “That’s more money to the good, but obviously with a move that massive and complicated, there were some transitions that had to be adjusted based on schedules, and things like that.”

Also last year, two adjacent plants at O’Hare Airport were consolidated into one operation. He said a number of clerks retired, taking advantage of an incentive that was extended. And there was a shortage of carriers, which he said is on its way to being corrected.

By April 1, 590 new carriers will be out on the streets. Those carriers also will be delivering packages, which he says has seen double-digit growth.

“We’re also hiring more clerks, and the whole training involves getting everyone up to speed,” Reynolds said. “We’re doing what we’re focusing on [reducing expenses] while trying to not let our eyes get away from the service.”

Ald. Michael Zalewski was key in trying to get mail delivery improved in his Southwest Side ward when it was at its worst. And he says the number of complaints over the last few years have definitely dropped: “I will say that we do have much fewer complaints as far as the time of delivery and the changing of carriers,” Zalewski said. “That has definitely slowed down on the Northwest side of the area.”

But, he admits he does see late-night carriers delivering mail in his ward sporadically.

“My wife and I were outside and we saw a carrier with a mining hat on our block. We have a steady carrier for several years. He must have been off and a substitute was filling in,” Zalewski said. “I think most people can accept that sometimes because they know it’s a temporary thing. Years ago, when it was a problem, it was not a temporary issue. It was a daily issue. Now, it seems to be a lot better.”



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