Clustered mailboxes save time, money

I notice when I drive around town that in a lot of areas people have mailboxes out on the edge of the sidewalk, but in other areas, the mailbox is at their door, and the mailman walks up the sidewalk just like in the good old days. And, then, in some areas, they have mailboxes for the whole block grouped in one place.

Who determines which one you get? I'd much rather have the mail dropped off at my front door, but I suspect that it's not really my choice.

— Lewis H., Medford

What you're seeing, Lewis, is an evolutionary process in the way mail is delivered. You're right, in some areas mail is still delivered to a porch box or even into a slot through the front door, or at a mailbox at the curb in rural areas and some parts of cities.

"Generally speaking, you see mailboxes at the door in older, more established neighborhoods," said Ron Schaer, manager of marketing for the U.S. Postal Service's Portland District, which covers all of Oregon and southern Washington.

In those good old days, the Postal Service continued to deliver mail to the front door in newer subdivisions.

In rural areas, it often wasn't practical to deliver mail to a house with a long driveway, so mailboxes were installed at the road.

Schaer said the Postal Service now generally requires a bank of mailboxes be installed at a central location for a new subdivision. This practice has been required for at least 20 years, he said.

The reason for the change is relatively simple. The Postal Service has been looking for ways to cut costs in recent years, so rather than adding new routes to keep up with new subdivisions, a centralized box is installed that contains up to 20 addresses.

"It takes longer for a letter carrier to deliver to a box on the house as opposed to a mailbox on the curb," Schaer said. "It's also very inefficient to walk the whole route. That's when we usually require that boxes be placed on the street."

In city neighborhoods that still have individual boxes on a street, Schaer said it's likely that the neighborhood was once considered a rural area but new subdivisions have since sprouted up and surrounded it.

He said there are two main reasons why a centralized bank of mailboxes works better for the postal service"

"It's much more efficient and less expensive in a cluster box," he said. "It's also safer."

A letter carrier stops the car, shuts off the engine and delivers to at least 20 households in one fell swoop rather than starting and stopping the car at each mailbox.

Another advantage for households is the cluster box style can be locked, so there is less danger of mail being stolen, Schaer said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.


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