Rural Postal Services

Blog, Crown Corporations, Les Routledge

This post got me thinking about rural postal services in Canada.  Perhaps it is time to step back from the old model and imagine a new one that works for rural communities.

While the issue of rural postal outlets is not on the policy / political agenda, it will come up again in the future.

Personally, I believe that rural communities that attempt to maintain a union-dominated, crown corporation outlet in their community are doomed to failure.

The problem is that for the 80% of the people who live in urban areas, I doubt that even 10% of them have stepped foot inside a post office in the last 5 years. Their mail is delivered to community boxes (or to their home for a privileged few), their sending is mediated through franchise outlets, and parcels come from UPS or Fed Ex.

In my mind, smart rural communities should today be planning for a future of postal services beyond the presence of a Canada Post office. The critical measurement should be the range of services offered instead of who delivers them.

In most rural communities, Canada Post employs mail boxes in their outlet to deliver the mail to the surrounding community.  The are no super boxes or home delivery.  Everyone has to go the the centre of town to pick up their mail.

That location guarantees nearly daily or bi-daily traffic from ever resident of the community. To me, this is a golden opportunity to set up retail and food service around that outlet and offer a place for people to sit down and sort their mail (mainly to throw away the junk mail that none of us want). With a bit of imagination, this location could become a vibrant community meeting hub and retail presence.

The critical need here is to re-imagine rural postal outlets in the new world. They are not places to get into and out of as quickly as possible. Instead, they should be coffee shops, restaurants, and retail outlets with seating that invite people to linger and socialize. The postal outlet is the driver of traffic and it is up to other lines of business to give them a reason to stay and spend money.

To me, that would be a big improvement on the outdated franchise outlets located in the back of pharmacies in urban centres. Going even further, perhaps it might be possible to move beyond the outdoor community mailboxes and have them moved into retail locations in urban communities. Maybe this is one time where rural trends could drive urban ones.