Community newspapers using the mail received the second good-news announcement of July recently when the Postal Service announced it expected to have 187 service hubs open by fall to provide direct transportation for newspaper mail in locations where mail processing plants have closed.
The announcement followed passage of a bill in a key Senate committee last week calling for a study of timely rural mail delivery.
David E. Williams, chief operating officer of the Postal Service, credited the National Newspaper Association with working to establish the hubs. NNA requested study of the hub operation in testimony to the Postal Regulatory Commission in 2012, and has met with USPS continuously since then on the opening of the hubs as mail plants have closed.
A service hub permits publishers to prepare mail destined for nearby post offices in "Direct" containers that can be handed off directly at a hub to ride postal transportation to the destination post office, so that 5-digit, Carrier-Route-or mixed 5 digit containers combining both-can be dock-transferred between one post office and another in the Hub territory, usually that of the old Sectional Center Facility.
The preparation of mail in 5-digit and carrier-route containers for hub handling avoids long and unnecessary trips to mail processing centers and helps publishers to reach subscribers more quickly. Publishers wanting to enter mail at the hub, possibly because the newspaper is printed nearby, can get the old SCF price for entering these containers there.
The establishment of hubs has become a pressing necessity for community newspapers that rely on the mail for circulation because nearly 100 mail processing centers have been shuttered by USPS in recent years and another 82 closings are planned. Williams said USPS had set up the hubs to help serve the customers of USPS and NNA newspapers.
"This process has been gradually coming into shape since NNA first met with USPS in 2013," NNA President John Edgecombe Jr. said. "Some of our members have been using the hubs while others have been waiting for their hubs to open. We think this development is going to help us improve service to readers who are in satellite towns that depend upon our publications and our markets. We appreciate the Postal Service's decision to establish them."
NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath said the complexity of the Postal Service requires patience and determination to achieve long-term projects.
"USPS is nearly a $70 billion corporation with a half-million workers and more than 150 billion pieces of mail. It is not easy to make large changes like the plant realignment, nor to plug in the patches we asked for. Setting up hubs involved changing mailing lists, communicating with software providers, reprogramming USPS' core information structure PostalOne, and hundreds of other details. The hub solution seemed like a long time coming, but given the environment we are operating in and the tight financial condition of USPS, it is not surprising that it took a lot of patience and effort to get this new plan to come into being. I want to thank Postmaster General Megan Brennan and Mr. Williams for sticking with us through this process. I also want to thank Brad Hill, president of Interlink, and my colleague on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee for his help in consulting with USPS on these hubs. They are going to make a difference, I believe. Newspapers should check the hub list and make sure via that office or their post office that dock transfers are occurring, and with software vendor to assure SCF prices being granted for direct containers dropped at hubs," Heath said.