Canada to stop urban mail home delivery, but fails to abolish snail-mail

Here in Canada, a hot political issue (other than disgust with Rob Ford) is the recent plan by Canada Post to stop home delivery in cities. My initial reaction was, “Wow, I wish we could get that in the USA!” but it turns out all they are doing is making people go to neighbourhood mailboxes to get their mail. For many years, people in new developments have had to do this — they install a big giant mailbox out on the street, and you get a key to get your mail. You normally don’t walk further than the end of your block. However, this will save a lot of work — and eliminate a lot of jobs, which also has people upset.

But let me go back to my original reaction — I want to see home letter delivery abolished.

Why? All I, and most other people get by mail are:

  • Junk mail (the vast bulk of the mail.)
  • One or two magazines
  • Bills and communications from companies that refuse to switch to all-electronic communication
  • Official notices (from governments who refuse to switch to all-electronic communication)
  • Cheques from companies who refuse to do direct deposit (see note below.)
  • Parcels (lots of these, though many more from UPS/Fedex/etc.)
  • A tiny and dwindling number of personal cards and letters. Perhaps 2-3 personal xmas cards.

The abolition of general mail delivery would force all those parties who refuse to do electronic communication to switch to it. The concept of an official e-mail address would arise. We would also need to see a better e-cheque service, something priced like a cheque (ie. not paypal which takes 2% or more) and as easy to use (ACH is not there yet.) This would force it into existing if you could not mail a cheque.

A replacement for registered mail would need to arise — that is what is needed for legal service. Putting that into e-mail is doable though challenging, as it requires adding money to e-mail, because you want people to have to pay to use it so that you don’t get it all the time.

And of course, parcel service would continue. And people who really want to send a letter could send it via parcel service, but not for sub-dollar first class mail prices.

Magazines would have to go all-electronic. Some may not see the world ready for that, but I think the time is very near. Today, one can make cheap large tablets in the 14 to 17 inch size that would be great for magazines. They would be too heavy to handhold (though possibly if they had no batteries and used a small cord they could be light enough for that) but they could easily be held on laps and tables and replace the magazine.

Few would mourn the death of junk mail, though it might lead to more spam in e-mail boxes until that’s under control. Senders of junk mail (notably politicians) might mourn it.

So the only sad thing would be the loss of the dwindling supply of personal letters. People getting married could use the parcel companies or go electronic. Thank-you notes would go electronic, making Miss Manners spin in her grave, but spin she eventually will. Truth is, the parcel companies would probably start up a basic letter service priced higher than 1st class mail but less than their most basic parcel. The more addresses you can share the cost of a truck on, the better — until the deliverbots arrive, at least. This is not easy, though. The postal service got to use the economies of delivering several letters a day to your house, and this could pay for a person to walk the street with a bag full, while the parcel companies use trucks.

We all know this day is coming. The question is, can we do better if we force it, and shut down letter delivery sooner rather than later?

Australian Perspective

After visiting Canada for a few weeks, possibly the most astonishing cultural surprise was a very small difference to Australia. I sat on a bench and watched a postal worker (a "postie" here in Australia) walking up and down steps to get to people's front doors in the common 2-storey buildings in that area. It looked exhausting and inefficient.

In Australia, the letterbox would have been at ground level, and the owners would have to negotiate the stairs, not the postie. So not a neighbourhood community mailbox, but one per building. I am sure that isn't a novel idea.

As for a better e-cheque service, this is an area where Australians - and I assume other countries - have often looked at the USA in askance. Cheques have been largely eliminated here. They are not totally gone; I received a single one this year (from a lawyer). I will soon have to send one to another lawyer, for a property transaction, which seems quaint and inefficient. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I actually still owned a chequebook. I haven't written a cheque since 2010.

Money can be sent securely to a company via credit card or BPay. Money can be sent to an individual through direct deposit with their bank-account details. (It is important to get those details right, as misdirected money may be difficult to recover. Typically, there are daily limits when done through the web, but unlimited when down through a teller.) For most banks, this is a free service. The money is typically available within 24 hours, rather than 5 days' clearance for a cheque.

I noted a few years ago, that when I was young receiving a cheque through the mail was a pleasant experience. Now, it is a chore - an unnecessary trip to the bank that could have been done online.

Catching up

"We would also need to see a better e-cheque service, something priced like a cheque (ie. not paypal which takes 2% or more) and as easy to use (ACH is not there yet.)"

What is an e-cheque? I haven't seen a cheque in Europe in years, if not decades. Almost all transfers are electronic. Most people have a checking account with little or no yearly fee, which includes unlimited electronic transfers.

I just returned from a week in the USA. The cab driver had a mechanical swiper to read the embossed numerals on my credit card. Again, this is something I haven't seen in years or even decades in Europe.

same here

"Money can be sent to an individual through direct deposit with their bank-account details. (It is important to get those details right, as misdirected money may be difficult to recover. Typically, there are daily limits when done through the web, but unlimited when down through a teller.) For most banks, this is a free service. The money is typically available within 24 hours, rather than 5 days' clearance for a cheque."

This is similar to the situation in Europe. Note that with IBAN (now BIC is needed as well, at least outside of Germany, but this will be obsolete in a couple of years), there is a 2-digit checksum, so most typos will throw an error. Of course, most transfers are not one-time, and the details are in a database.

Electronic cheques

You can do them in the USA, but they are not that common. And in many cases they are backwards, you tell the creditor your number and they go to the bank to get the money, just like a regular cheque. Which is silly, the paypal approach of “I tell the bank to send you $X” is far more secure and private. But paypal should not try to take 2-3% of the money to do this. Paypal used to justify this as many people used credit cards, but now paypal tries really hard to use ACH and you have to work hard to use a credit card. But they still take that big cut except on personal transactions which are paypal balance funded.

Anyway, all of this does not take away from the main point, which is the paper letter’s day should be done.

both ways here too

In principle, it works both ways here as well: I tell my bank to send money to someone else's account (either one-time or as a standing order), or I tell someone else my details and give them permission and they get it ("direct debit, electronically of course!) out of my account. In the latter case, any transaction can be reversed within 6 weeks without justification. (This is similar to credit cards, where any charge, or at least any without a signature or PIN entry, can be reversed.) Otherwise, this wouldn't be accepted very much. The latter is usually used for regular bills, which might or might not vary in amount. Advantage: difficult to forget. A club, for example, can collect member fees, and not go into the red if someone forgets to pay.

Yes, here too

I can send money to you given your account details here as well. Can’t do it internationally because US banks don’t play with the EU system.

However, what we need is something akin to paypal, “Here’s my e-mail address (or something else human memorable) — you can send me money, or I can send you an invoice for money.” Paypal does this, it just charges way too much.

Not Ready for Snail Mail to Die

I am glad to see that the postal systems are beginning to do this. I think it is a good compromise between efficiency and convenience. Personally I still get a lot of mail, mostly bills. I prefer not to get them electronically. The reason is that almost none will email me a copy of my bill. They send me an email, but then force me to login, then dig through their terrible site, all the while dismissing their ads and offers for more services. Don't get me started on the account-password problem. I of course pay them all electronically, so delivery could be cut back to a few times per week, another reasonable compromise in my opinion.

That I agree with

I totally agree with your hatred for the people who e-mail you a note saying “log in to see your bill.” Hate them hate them hate them. However, the answer is to fix that, not to get the bill on paper.

For me, I use a bill paying service to handle the people who bill on paper (and even some who bill online.) They give me a PO box, and all mail to that box is scanned, and put into my bill ledger and even paid automatically if it is the standard amount.

It has a painful login procedure as well, but I only have to login every few months for unusual bills.

But while there will still be people who like paper bills and letters, there comes a time when the inefficiency (and ecological waste) of paper bills just can’t justify that small preference, I think.

Some folks wouldn't be able to do it

There are plenty of folks around who would not be able to adapt to this - mostly elderly who do not have an electronic lifestyle.

Not be able to

There are a few options for these elderly, computerless people. For bills and many letters, you could make a small box costing around $100 that would receive emails and print them. It would use some cheap cellular account. It would be highly filtered to avoid spam. Ie. those who want to send you paper mail would send it by more expensive package delivery, and you would show the paper to the box which would scan it and enable mail from them.

That does not solve magazines, though, I agree. Those, and many other problems might well be solved by having once/week or even twice/month home delivery. This would do your magazines, your bills, even your Christmas cards. Paper letters would be for the non-urgent. Billers would even know what cycle you were on (not everybody would be on the same day) and send bills to coincide with your delivery day. Weekly newsmagazines would still be a problem, if your day was the wrong day you would see they delayed a fair bit and might get annoyed. Monthly magazines, postal parcels etc. would all be fine, as would most personal cards and letters.

Checks and Postal Service

We still write checks to our cleaning woman. We just aren't going to force her to update, but most of the time we either use a credit card or direct money transfer from our bank. We rent out a vacation cottage, so we accept checks and refund the security deposit by check as well. (The number of people who use Paypal has really gone up over the last year, so checks may be the minority in a year or two.)

One thing that puzzles me. UPS and Fedex often use the USPS to do the "last yards" for their deliveries, so I'll see that something has been shipped UPS, track it through UPS, but find it in my mailbox with USPS markings on it. If the postal service stops home delivery, will UPS and Fedex be able to handle the change?

Using the mail

Cheques do not go away because the mail goes away. It’s just that if you need to send money to somebody through the mail, there are other paths. Obviously for your housekeeper you should not need the mail.

Generally anybody who is paying can demand the recipient accept a new form if that new form is reasonably well accepted and tested, though if it has fees that may not be part of the deal.

I have gotten those USPS solutions mails, but they always tracked USPS from the origination, I have not seen one that switched. Though it makes sense. But even if the USPS dropped to less regular delivery, it would still do packages (one presumes) and so the computers will always be able to figure out the cheapest and quickest way to get something to you, no matter what exists.

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