Post Offices have trouble delivering

Long waits are blamed on the influx of visitors and high volume of online shopping.

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At The Times, we try to give our interns real-life experiences, and no experience is more real than going to the Post Office on Martha’s Vineyard during the summer.

Even in this summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer visitors, there are still complaints of long lines, particularly at the down-Island Post Offices — one reader telling us that on July 16 he was still waiting for a package that had been scanned as arriving in Vineyard Haven July 11. “The system is broken,” Robert Rippcondi said. “I just left Vineyard Haven Post Office, and saw cages of packages out in the open, under the sun, perhaps having just arrived from the [Cape Cod Express] truck that was parked outside the gate.”  

Rippcondi said on a previous visit, he did get his package, but it had a gaping hole and the contents had fallen out. He doesn’t blame the Post Office, but says they could do better with customer service. Just deal with one customer at a time and let them know you care, he said. “They just handed me the package with the gaping hole and said nothing,” he said.
The long lines and waits for packages appear to be a math problem — an uptick of 52 percent more packages than at this time last year. The volume of mail — particularly packages — is so great there are now two tents erected behind Vineyard Haven Post Office. “The two tents at Vineyard Haven were put in place to protect the mail being sorted before it enters the building. The volume of packages exceeds the building’s capacity daily,” Stephen Doherty, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Northeast region, told The Times in an email. “Across the Island, the influx of summer residents combined with limited available shopping has caused a wave of online ordering that has caused record parcel volumes.”

On Thursday, we sent our five interns — Clare Lonergan, Erin Hill, Kyra Steck, Shelby Regan, and Isabel Gitten — on the great intern challenge. Each was assigned to an Island Post Office with the challenge of getting in line at 1 pm and seeing how long it took them to buy stamps at the window.

Lonergan and Hill had it easy. They were assigned to West Tisbury and Chilmark, respectively. 

Shortly after 1 pm, Lonergan was the first to report. “No line at WT Post Office. I think I win the challenge,” she wrote.

Even with West Tisbury’s new policy of one out, one in, Lonergan had no wait. “I strolled up to the waiting area at the West Tisbury Post Office to find that there was no line ahead of me,” she wrote. “Only one person is allowed in the office at a time, and there are stickers lining the floor of the porch out front, designating the six-foot distances that waiting customers must maintain from each other. There was a Plexiglas screen separating the postal worker and me. I bought a very cute book of stamps of Post Office murals, and was on my merry way.”

Hill’s experience was similar in Chilmark. “As a lifelong resident of Edgartown, a trip to the Post Office in the summertime is nothing less than a daunting experience that requires mental preparation and patience. After 21 years, I would like to believe that I have adapted to the process, but it never ceases to surprise me,” she wrote. “To paint a picture, the process goes as follows: impulsively ordering an item with standard shipping, waiting an additional five days after the ‘delivery date’ to check to see if my package is ready for pickup at the Post Office, sitting in The Triangle traffic for about 10 minutes, attempting to maneuver the chaotic parking lot, finally securing a parking spot, waiting outside the Post Office for three to five minutes in the sweltering heat respecting the maximum capacity, being allowed entrance to then collect the yellow slip from my box, and then wait for 20 to 30 [minutes] to arrive at the window and receive my package. The experience in general certainly has the ability to age anyone.”

So what did she find in Chilmark? “I was excited and hopeful that I would observe a contrasting postal service process … I was correct. As I pulled into the half-vacant parking lot, I immediately groaned as I saw two individuals outside, dreading that I was in for another 20-plus minute expedition. But rather than waiting in line, I find out that the two friends are just discussing the weather and plans for the day,” Hill wrote. “When walking into the Chilmark Post Office, I am greeted with cool air, peace, and one postal window open. My fight-or-flight instincts immediately kick in at the realization of one window open, but I find that I am one of three people in the building — one of whom is working the window. I waited in line for about five minutes while eavesdropping on a conversation between a customer buying stamps and the individual working the window. The customer requested the Arnold Palmer stamps, as it brought her back to her childhood. The customer began to share the stories about how her mother grew up with professional golfer Arnold Palmer, and the duo used to drink tea together. Once I made my way to the window, I acknowledged that the previous customer was a tough act to follow, so I quickly bought my stamps and left the Chilmark Post Office within eight minutes. On my way out, I was bid adieu by a painted rock that says ‘Love Is All You Need,’ but I am sure the patrons of the Edgartown Post Office would disagree.”

Her total wait time was five minutes.

Doherty wasn’t surprised. “Offices such as Chilmark or West Tisbury, who traditionally deal with a smaller customer base, are better able to keep up with the surge,” he wrote.

Things were much different down-Island. Regan visited Oak Bluffs, Gitten was at Edgartown, and Steck got stuck with Vineyard Haven. (She volunteered because she was working out of our office Thursday — a hop, skip, and a long wait in line from 30 Beach Road.)

There was a line outside the Oak Bluffs Post Office. “[The] line would have been daunting to most, wrapping all the way around the building and nearing the Reliable parking lot. Customers stood roughly six feet apart from each other,” she wrote. “Despite its length, the line moved quickly. Within five minutes I was first in line to enter the building. There was an awkward shuffle between myself and another customer as she exited, attempting to hold the door for me without making physical contact. Inside, a line of customers waiting to reach the window stretched to the back of the building. Each group of two or less stood on a six-foot marker. Again, the line moved quite quickly, as two windows were open for service. New customers entering from outside had to move between groups in order to reach and check their P.O. boxes. Thirteen customers were lined up inside the building, despite signs indicating a permitted maximum of 10 people. The staff members manning the windows wasted no time with each customer, and I arrived in front of them faster than I had anticipated, but slower than I would’ve liked.” Her wait was a total of 10½ minutes.

Think that’s bad? Gitten says, “Hold my beer.” At the aforementioned Edgartown Post Office, it took her 33 minutes to buy stamps. “When I first arrived, there were about 10 people in line. The line wrapped around the P.O. boxes in the lobby, and everyone was standing socially distant. There were signs that said no more than 10 people can be in the lobby at a time, but nobody was enforcing this,” she wrote. “Everyone was wearing masks inside. People had to weave through the line for the front desk in order to check their P.O. boxes. The line grew to around 15 people by the time I got to the front. The stamp transaction was quick, and there were a bar and glass screen separating me from the postal worker.”

And then there’s Vineyard Haven, where Steck knew she was in for a wait. “I knew instantly I was in it for the long haul. To see the line and stand in it anyway was a commitment, and my fellow mail-getters, some even with magazines and books in hand to keep themselves entertained, seemed very aware of this,” she wrote. “The line started in the lobby and followed out the front door, with most people waiting outside in the parking lot. I was the ninth person outside the building, and most likely the 15th person in total. While the individuals in line with me were not standing at least six feet apart, I am happy to report that each person I saw was wearing a mask. When I finally made it inside, I could see four employees behind the counter, but only one or two patrons being served at a time. Some efforts to expedite the process only caused confusion and delay. When I reached the counter, the Post Office worker was kind and sympathetic to the wait time, apologizing that I had to wait so long. After some trouble with the chip reader, I was able to take my five stamps, colorful and with ‘celebrate’ spelled across them, and be on my way.”

Steck’s total wait time was 48 minutes with another nine minutes for the machine malfunction.

Doherty said when possible, the USPS tries to send in reinforcements. “We do have employees coming in from the mainland, as available, to assist with sortation and window service in Vineyard Haven,” he wrote. “We will continue to flex our resources to support our staff as they navigate parcel volumes more than 52 percent higher than the same period last year. Additionally, we are actively seeking help, and Island residents can visit usps.com/careers to apply.”

With just about everything else on Martha’s Vineyard this summer, visitors will have to pack their patience alongside their sunscreen — and maybe bring a book while they stand in line.

“We understand that the customer experience is different this year,” Doherty wrote. “Social distancing has increased lines, and we certainly appreciate the business from Island residents and visitors, and their patience while we provide package services beyond anything we’ve seen at these locations.”

30 COMMENTS

  1. You can save an unnecessary trip to the PO to just ”check your mail” unless you’re tracking a package thats arriving. There is ”informed delivery” so you will know which letters and packages are coming. So no need to wait to get in line if nothings in the PO Box. USPS doesnt charge for this other than a one time $1 verification fee. If you can get RFD delivery that also saves the trip.
    https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action?iom=B490-81IN-USRS-PS-USP-BI-XXX-AW-XX-X-INF&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=search&utm_content=b490-81in&utm_campaign=informeddelivery2018&gclid=78c141b99004142cf1f51eaba95c987e&gclsrc=3p.ds&msclkid=78c141b99004142cf1f51eaba95c987e

    • notnewhere,

      Indeed! Informed Delivery is, and has been the only way to go.

      You may still have a long wait when you go to the Post Office, but, with Informed Delivery, at least you know WHEN to go to the dreaded Post Office. This is because Informed Delivery alerts you of mail, “Coming To Your Mailbox Soon”. And you receive pictures of your mail (no package pictures, yet).

      Just now, I understand I have a heavy package from the US Mint. Yes!

      ✉️????????????

      :-^

    • “USPS doesnt charge for this other than a one time $1 verification fee.“

      Are they charging a dollar now? I signed up over a year and a half ago and I was charged no fee.

      :-^ ???? ????

      • Barreled, I got a message about a verification fee, but then it let me sign up for free anyway. With my saved $1, I can now buy a quarter of an Island avocado. ????

        • aquinnah,

          Thanks. I don’t think that was the modus operandi when I signed up.

          “With my saved $1, I can now buy a quarter of an Island avocado.”
          Truth be told! ????????????

          :-^

    • Notnewhere, thanks so much for posting this. Somehow I’ve never heard of it before. Yay, good option.

  2. Why don’t they at least expand their hours where you can check your mailbox. Why not open the doors all day on Sunday.

    • President Trump will not allow the Post Office to open on Sunday.
      He is is doing his best to extend that to Monday through Saturday, too.
      He knows a thing or two about putting the hurt Jeff Bezos.

  3. Really ? you don’t actually have to be in the line to know it is a long wait . I am appalled that the Times sent some of their interns to stand in line to find that out.
    The Times has recently been begging for money, but somehow finds it ok to pay interns to stand in the p.o. line to buy stamps, which could be easily bought on line.
    https://www.stamps.com/welcome/post-office-stamps/?source=si10822974&subsource=73159929&LID=73159929&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI08qi4vfV6gIVrNSzCh003wGpEAAYASAAEgLprfD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
    I think that rather than pay some interns to spend my yearly fee to buy a few stamps while making people behind them wait to prove an obvious point , I think the times could better serve the community by informing the public about alternatives to standing in line– like the link above.

      • taco– I can’t be sure, but one would assume that you could get them delivered to your mail box or po box just like any other envelope. You can also sign up and directly print your stamps onto envelopes with any printer.

    • DDx12 Several things– I thought interns were not paid and if they are-it can’t be much. Times getting money for subscriptions is irrelevant. Most newspapers charge -the more readers the wider the audience for ads means revenue for the newspaper. Cape Cod Times, Brockton Enterprise,Patriot Legder, Globe etc. Home delivery here and off the rock costs money. Yes you can get stamps and postage labels/certified printed online.. You still have to park,go in and drop off mail/pkgs that don’t fit in outside bin. Most companies I order from start out either UPS or Fedex then they convert to US Sure Post or similar that ends up at the Post Office.Companies say they have no control over that -they choose most inexpensive method. A RR box that might help but packages too large or ones you have to sign for still require a trip to PO. Downfall to that-Sat nite bat brigade can vertically relocate your RR box.There was a Times article a couple of weeks ago predicting this inevitable situation. Why can’t we get at home delivery? UPS & FEDEX do it -if you are lucky enough to get a company that completes delivery from start to finish. Beverages Direct does. There are mail boxes at the entrances of private residential drives like Pondview in OB and elsewhere. Some have a larger box for packages. Can that work in satellite spots in town? We have food trucks why not mail trucks? Why not have pickup times for example -PO Box #1 to 50 or last name pickup like A to D at 10am to 11 am on Mondays or whenever or an online sign up sheet for curbside. The thrift store has/had an online shop and pickup method until it could open.Or a location like the Tisbury School parking lot? We have restaurants getting outdoor set ups. For example, Mikado has arranged for seating with a next door neighbor. The Edgartown courthouse lawn is set to share with Alchemy. Veterans Park could have had outside eating. A lot of package pile up could be reduced. Most online ordering is done to avoid shopping in person. It was that way in the before times. The Post Office has the keyed metail boxes but isn’t using them prolly because there is no time to stock them. Maybe they could close an hour early and fill them. I know Home Depot was doing that to minimize staff interaction with customers. Off the rock- waiting in line is status quo.Down here it is Xmas in July. SO I challenge you to an experiment . How about you pickup my mail and 3 of my neighbors? If you spend an hour at VH PO thats saves least 3 hours, 3 less people in line(3×6=18 feet saved), 3 less cars to park. It is time to start thinking outside the (mail) Box!

      • Ginger– good points all around.
        As for your comment about interns not being paid, you are correct.
        You are also correct about the costs of running a paper, and it is indeed reasonable for the times to charge for it.
        I have corresponded with George about this, and I have apologized to him personally. My “begging for money” comment was totally inappropriate.
        So I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to both George and all the staff at the MV Times. I am sincerely sorry for my callous comment.
        I think the Times does a great job , and they did not deserve that criticism.
        And just to point out how fair George is on the moderating, he would have been well within reason to have deleted that one.

        • Don, my self-edit feature is often out of whack, especially during tough times like these. Thankfully, lots of my “needs revision” posts don’t see the light of day, but sometimes they do, and then I wish I could delete them.
          I also think the Times does a great job and deserves our thanks and gratitude and money! It’s great to see you recognize your mistake and to make it right.

  4. Quote: ” Each was assigned to an Island Post Office with the challenge of getting in line at 1 pm and seeing how long it took them to buy stamps at the window.”

    if the intern who went to the Chilmark PO arrived at 1pm they would have had a half hour wait, minimum. The service window closes every day from 1 to 1:30.

  5. I filed a change of address back in april and I still havent received anything. After calling the 1800 number and filing multiple complaints still no dice.
    The VH post office is probably the worst I’ve ever been in and the people there can be very mean and unhelpful even in the winter. This is an institutional problem on the vineyard just recent events has made it more pronounced.

    • Hank, thank Trump for cutting back on Postal Service.
      There is no limit to what Trump will do to his mortal enemies like Jeff Bezos.

  6. Not all internships are paid.
    I have waited no less than 40 minutes all 3 times I had to go to the Edgartown PO. I had 3 packages arrive at the same time, yet I had to wait in line 3 different days to retrieve them.
    I have informed delivery, but I also know that even if it’s scanned in and I get an email notification at 7:30 am, I do not believe that said mail is actually in my po box.
    NOT NEW HERE: RFD delivery???? Forget about it, I have been told several times over the years by different employees, they do not have enough drivers and therefore cannot offer RFD delivery to anyone new.
    POST OFFICE IN EDGARTOWN = PURGATORY

  7. The whole Post Office is in purgatory.
    Trump will soon be dissolving it.
    He hates Jeff Bezos that much.

  8. Post office cost me 128 bucks. I have a fuel pump for my car coming from ebay. Its been sitting for a week in Wareham. I cant be without my car for a month and just ordered one from NAPA. This is crazy. If its corvid than I need to just go with the flow.

  9. Speaking of packages. Is anyone else having an issue with them being lost in the mail? I have ordered the same item from Amazon three times in the past month and have yet to receive anything. Shipped USPS. Each time, the tracking info changes to “your package may be late” on the day it’s set to arrive. Then no updates for a few days. Then “your package may be lost in the mail”. My address is correct, and I’ve never had this happen before. Wondering if it’s an Amazon problem, an Island-y problem, or if my luck is just not holding up lately.

  10. I was at the V.H. post office today to get my mail. I noticed only one key in the bank of recently installed lockers . Since those lockers went in ( perhaps a year ago ?) I have picked up many packages at the window, and never had a key show up for one in my po box.

  11. Not to worry, right after the election Trump will be shutting down the Post Office.
    No one writes letter any more.
    The only thing that the Post Office really does any more is to deliver Amazon packages.
    Trump is not fond of Jeff.

  12. Informed Delivery is useless in Vineyard Haven. Nothing has ever arrived the day Informed Delivery tells me it is there. Regular mail is a minimum of a day or two later. My most recent package arrived ten days after Informed Delivery told me it was there.

Comments are closed.