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.