Friday, December 12, 2008

Postman on the Pony Express

It's been a week for commenting on the news, but frankly it's been a while since there were so many stories in the media that beggar belief. Yesterday's was the story of our national postmen (and women) being told they would have to walk their rounds at an average of 4 mph once some new fangled satellite tracking / round estimating / computerised wizardry is introduced.

Up until now they've gone out, delivered a few letters and come back again. But mail volumes are rising and budgets are tightening and increasingly the delivery chaps (and chapesses) are returning to the depot with some of their rubber-band-bound-bundles undelivered(*). Yes, that's right. You may not have known this, but once the shift is up, postie stops work, whether or not the round is complete. Anything left over has to wait for the next day. So much for "come rain, or wind, hail or sleet, ..." etc.

Things have got so bad that even the managers have to go out on deliveries some days.

So they're introducing this new system. Never before has the walking pace of the British postie been subject to such scrutiny. But wait a minute. Where has the figure of 4 mph come from? Just plucked out of the air by some junior managerial type I shouldn't wonder. One of those who doesn't know his arse from his elbow. You must have met one. "Well, 4 mph is a pretty fair average," I hear you say. And you'd be close. 3 mph is actually closer to the average walking speed, but over what distance? Bear in mind that this speed - this average speed - has to be maintained over a three-and-a-half hour shift. Bear in mind that, while maintaining this average speed, the postie has to push a cart, or carry a heavy bag of post. Bear in mind that the average must be maintained on all surfaces, inclines and in all weathers.

Remember too that there are gates to be opened, slippery paths to negotiate, dogs to avoid, and that a percentage of all deliveries will be "attendance" calls. That is, visits where the recipient is required to sign for the package. So postie has to ring the bell, wait for the bell to be answered, collect the signature, and hand over the package. Possibly even pass the time of day with the punter in order to maintain the semblance of customer service for the good old Royal Mail. Or, if the recipient is out, he (or she) has to write out one of those little chitties that tell you the exact 5-minute period you're allocated to visit the sorting office and collect the undelivered item for yourself.

That's a lot of standing around for a man (or woman) who has to maintain an average speed of 4 mph. Remember also that Internet shopping is on the rise. We're all eBaying and Amazoning and play.comming much more than we ever have before. So the 3-4% estimate of "attendance calls" is actually more like 7-8% these days, and rising. Even more standing around. Much more of this and the nation's posties (and postesses) will have to be jogging between houses. They'll have no breath to spare for passing the time of day.

Oh, and did I mention Belgium has a similar system? Yes. Only their postpeople are only expected to achieve an average speed of 2.3 mph.

(*)I know the bundles are bound with rubber bands, because we find one on our front path almost every morning. Red ones, they are. And we're not alone. Our neighbours find them too, as do many of my colleagues. I wonder what proportion of each first-class stamp goes on buying new rubber bands to replace the ones cast on our paths willy-nilly? Surely it wouldn't add many picoseconds to the average round to actually put them in your pocket, mister postie? And... you know... reuse them? In these times of scarce Earth resources and global warming and all that?

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