WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Snail mail may be about to get even slower in New Zealand. The country's postal service is considering cutting delivery from six days a week to three to cut costs as people increasingly turn to the Internet to pay bills and communicate.
The island nation of 4.5 million is among many countries struggling to sustain a viable postal service. Mail volumes in New Zealand dropped by 24 per cent over the past 10 years and are forecast to drop by another 25 per cent in the next five years.
New Zealand Post, the government-owned agency that delivers the mail, on Tuesday proposed changing its charter to require a minimum three days delivery instead of six. The proposal is now open to public comment and would not likely be implemented before next year.
The scale of the possible cutback has alarmed some consumers and the union that represents postal workers, which says it would cost hundreds of jobs and undermine the integrity of the postal system.
Yet, in perhaps another sign of changing times, many seem ready to accept a reduced service.
In an unscientific poll conducted by The New Zealand Herald newspaper, 50 per cent of respondents said they'd be fine with three-day-a-week delivery because they don't get much mail anyway. Eighteen per cent said they'd be upset by the change, while 32 per cent said the postal agency should cut only Saturday deliveries.
In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand Post Chief Executive Brian Roche said that if his agency did reduce deliveries to three days a week, his instinct would be to implement the cuts in one fell swoop rather than over time in order to create the maximum certainty for customers.
"The single biggest issue is the Internet," Roche said. "It's part of everybody's daily life. People send messages to one another through text, Facebook, email and mobile ... strong physical networks are all under challenge from consumer substitution."
He said the agency, which employs about 7,000 people to sort and deliver mail, would seek to minimize layoffs through attrition and redeployment, although he acknowledged hundreds could lose their jobs.
In its most recent annual report, New Zealand Post recorded a profit of 170 million New Zealand dollars ($142 million). But much of that was due to its investment in a bank and a courier service. The postal division still remains profitable although is forecast to begin losing money by 2016.
Roche said many other countries would be looking to New Zealand's as a test case if it did implement such a cut. He said Denmark in recent years had made a similar cut to deliveries following a campaign to have people switch to digital mail.
The U.S. Postal Service says it has cut the size of its career workforce by 168,000, or 24 per cent, since 2006 as mail volumes have declined. But a proposal by the agency to cut its delivery obligation from six days a week to five has proved contentious and has not been passed by Congress.
In New Zealand, Roche said he's keenly aware of the 170-year heritage of postal deliveries.
"It's been part of the fabric of society," he said, "and you tinker with it with respect and at your peril."