Postal service lacking basic transparency


The higher-ups in the U.S. Postal Service on Martha’s Vineyard have some explaining to do. The Times has tried on numerous occasions to get even the most straightforward information from the service, only to be left in the dark.

Seemingly every Islander has postal frustrations and anxieties: Months-long delays for Christmas presents, broken items, packages returned to sender on the same day they arrive on the Island, never mind the hours waiting in line for packages. 

From our own experiences as a newspaper relying on the postal service delivering our paper to you, the reader, it’s been a struggle. Newspapers sometimes don’t arrive for some readers, and we don’t get any payback or credit when they don’t arrive. There’s also a turnover of postal employees, which makes it difficult to know whom to go to when there’s an issue. We choose to deliver on Thursday instead of Friday, for fear of postal issues leading to papers not arriving until Monday.

But while we all might have anecdotes, it is the lack of response and transparency from the Postal Service that is most egregious. If we don’t know what is actually going on behind the desks and P.O. boxes, and what’s leading to the long wait times, how can we hope that it will improve?

Regardless of progress, the Postal Service is a public entity. They are beholden to the taxpayer, and we deserve answers.

To be clear, this is not an issue of individual staff members at Post Offices on the Island. Quite the opposite. Staff have been generous, and seem to work hard, according to our own experiences and from interviews with the public. 

And while we don’t know specifically, many of the issues at Island Post Offices seem to be based on staff shortages.

Before getting too critical, we recognize that the Postal Service continues to be the most popular federal government program, with the Pew Research Center reporting in 2020 that over 90 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the service. On the Island, we’d venture to guess it’s less than 90 percent, but we would also venture to guess that it’s better than the alternative, which would be no postal service at all. In short, the U.S. Postal Service is an incredible program.

But on the Island, it’s short of incredible.

The most recent example we have is our reporting from the Oak Bluffs Post Office. After fielding complaints of long wait times, we sent a reporter there on a random Tuesday. The line at the Post Office stretched nearly out the door. At the front of the line, customers said they had been waiting for 45 minutes. One man, a 20-year resident of Oak Bluffs, said that he had been to the Post Office two days earlier to pick up a package. He waited 45 minutes, only to be told he would have to come back again, when he waited another 45 minutes. We didn’t wait to find out if he did get his package. 

We also heard from a nearly 90-year-old Oak Bluffs resident who says he’s waited well over an hour for packages. With no chair, he’s forced to lean against the Post Office boxes for assistance (he explained to us that other customers told him to wait on a bench outside, and they would come to get him when his turn was up).

But strangely, the worst story from our visit in Oak Bluffs was from a man who said that waiting in line at the Post Office is just a part of Island life. In effect, we’ve learned to accept bad service.

The Oak Bluffs office used to have two window attendants waiting on customers. That’s shrunk to just one, which likely has not helped. But when our reporter tried calling the Post Office for an explanation of the wait times, the response was vague, if you could call it a response. The general phone number rang for a while before going to an answering service reporting that the next available staffer would answer. After waiting a while, the call ended. That happened several times. Next we tried a general customer service number. They were unable to connect us to the Oak Bluffs office, but said the wait times for packages were likely because of staff shortages. We also tried getting in touch with a state media representative, but a response has failed to materialize.

On a separate occasion, The Times also attempted to produce an inside look at the Tisbury Post Office, on the recommendation of a staff member. But the postmaster, after repeated requests, said she couldn’t talk to us. We wonder why.

To be clear, not all Post Offices on the Vineyard are problematic. We hear that the West Tisbury Post Office is a “dream.” And In the grand scheme, waiting in line for a package is not the worst thing. Not getting a package in time for Christmas is worse, but not the end of the world. 

But Islanders do deserve better, and we hope, implore even, that postal officials on Island can be more open and transparent about why the service is lacking here, and what they are trying to do to make it better.


  1. I spent 30 minutes this afternoon after my father waited this morning with no luck and decided to go home. Mike was who waited on me , he was friendly, pleasant, and helpful while locating our 3 packages.
    There is a female who is very rude and has not bothered to look for any packages, saying that they were not there even though I was able to show it had arrived the day before.
    I miss the staff who worked under Dave.

  2. I’ve been getting my mail at the West Tisbury PO since 1985, and I can testify that what you’ve heard is true: the West Tisbury PO is awesome. It’s been awesome through several postmasters and 38 years’ worth of staff turnover. All this time my friends in various other towns have been complaining bitterly about their (lack of) service. 20+ years ago I had a winter rental in Edgartown, and number of Express Mail packages that got returned to sender because I was never notified they were waiting was — sobering. Fortunately I never gave up my WT PO box. (Are you kidding??) I know a few Vineyard Haven residents who have WT PO boxes for the same reason. What’s the problem? I don’t get it. We’re talking about *decades* here. Whoever solves this once and for all deserves a MacArthur “genius” grant or a Nobel Prize or something.

  3. did u try contacting
    janine cox
    POOM H 025-026
    25 Dorchester Avenue
    Boston MA 02205

    she is pretty much the complaint department for postal area. i got her contact from
    filling out a usps form online about missing packages.

  4. Well said. The postmaster in Tisbury is problematic and has been since she started there. The amount of mail we don’t receive is horrendous.

    I’d like them to deliver our mail, all of it, on time and forget about decorations, hanging plants and bird feeders!

  5. I do not believe the postal service is causing the problems people face on the island, its the over population of people in the summertime. The USPS seems to be doing the best they can where I go in Oak Bluffs. It may also be a job that includes some stress, don’t you think, try to be polite to them, it might help.

    • With all due respect, some of these problems have been going on for many years, and they don’t just happen in the summer. OB may be doing fine, and I know for a fact that WT is, but that doesn’t mean the problems are less real in other places.

      • OB definitely ISN’T doing fine! Long lines all year long, virtually all parcel lockers not used, and everything has gotten worse with the new Postmaster. BTW West Tisbury is just great! So glad I get my personal mail there!

  6. One of the problems with long lines and waits at the post office is that we have robots telling us that our mail or package has been delivered when actually, it might have reached the Post Office, but there has not been time for the staff to sort them. When I get a robo-notice I wait a day or two so I’m not doing that annoying thing that holds up the line…expecting the package to be available when it is not and sending the staff off to needlessly look for it. I don’t blame the staffer mentioned above who did not want to look for a package that she said wasn’t there even though it was, according to some Amazon robot or other misinformed nonentity. I wish people would figure this out before jamming up the place unnecessarily.
    UPS got lazy and started Sure-Post which was a disaster. Why deliver when you can dump them all at the post office? Probably good for their carbon footprint and I’m sure this was a mutual agreement that seemed good at the time…but did an understaffed USPS need all the extra packages? I was told by my UPS driver that this is no longer happening. If true, this is good news!

  7. A self-service shipping kiosk would be great. Weigh your own package, print the label and attach, pay with credit card and put in a bin. I’ve used them in California and the don’t take up much space. This would leave the line for people picking up packages. With a potential strike at UPS, the situation will only get worse

  8. Oak Bluffs Post Office problems do go from bad to worse from winter to summer. I was sent equipment for a sleep study recently by an off-Island firm who assumed that my street address was sufficient. Of course the package went into General Delivery. Fortunately there is a wonderful woman at the PO who often catches packages that should have PO Box numbers on them. The off-Island firm listened to my excuses as to why the study had not been completed and returned on time, and sent me a text telling me they would charge me $25 a day for “late return”. They were clearly unimpressed by my story. When I got to the part about the post office doesn’t deliver packages they were clearly in disbelief. I do not want to give up my box number. I’ve had it for 50 years! And I often see friends at the PO that I haven’t seen for months. I wish they could have more staff hired if that’s indeed the problem. But that’s the problem everywhere, isn’t it? I think their package delivery routine at the post office could be improved: perhaps places for us older folk to sit might be nice. And more than one person at the window would be better, of course. But I really think the staff that is there is doing its best and is mostly pleasant and helpful.

  9. Well, kudos to Vineyard Haven post office for the installation of the locker boxes, which has been a dramatic time saver. Also, I think the hanging plants are lovely. But it’s true that WT Post office is the gold standard, if only one could live long enough to get a PO Box there.

  10. Another help in OB would be to leave the lobby open when the office is closed. If folks could check their boxes and the lockers it might cut at least a few folks from the line. In other jurisdictions I’ve lived the lobby is open and, as another comment noted, you can weigh packages, print labels and ship – no need to wait for a staffer.

  11. Delays, broken items, and long wait times have become a common occurrence, leading to understandable frustrations among the community. The lack of transparency and response from the Postal Service is disheartening and leaves us without any hope for improvement. A few times I wrote about problems in society, see this here, in different blogs, but we still have problems. I hope that the Postal Service takes these concerns seriously and works towards providing better service and communication to address the frustrations faced by the Martha’s Vineyard community.

  12. OMG. don’t even get me started! My packages are left on the side of the road about 2 inches from the pavement at the base of my mail box. Frequently my neighbors packages sit outside in the dirt, getting soaked in the rain for days. Not only are the packages subject to theft, they are vulnerable to getting run over. It’s appalling. When did dumping parcels on the roadside qualify as mail delivery???

Comments are closed.