PORTLAND — Instead of closing 34 rural post offices in Maine, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to reduce the hours of 244 rural post offices across the state.
Post offices now open for retail business eight hours per day will see their hours reduced to four or six per day. Some will be open for just two hours a day.
USPS officials said the trade-off represents the will of rural Americans, who indicated in a nationwide survey that they preferred the reduced-service option over closing 3,700 rural post offices across the country.
“We believe this will be a win-win for communities coast to coast,” Sue Brennan, a USPS spokeswoman, said.
In Maine, the potential closings included Portland’s Station A at 622 Congress St., and the Cliff Island and Bowdoin post offices. Now, those locations will stay open, but seven area post offices will see their hours reduced.
These include Cliff Island, South Freeport, Chebeague Island, Orr’s Island, Bailey Island, Long Island, and Bowdoin.
Brennan said that the impact on postal employees would be minimal.
“Most of these offices employ just one person,” she said. “There is an (incentive) retirement option for the postmasters and there will be a lot of opportunity, since we will be filling nearly 4,500 vacant postmaster positions first.”
The announcement came just days before the May 15 expiration of a self-imposed USPS moratorium on closing post offices.
The Postal Service has been struggling to make ends meet for years, for reasons that include the explosion of digital communication, like email. It recently projected a $13 billion deficit for the year.
The notion of closing certain underused post offices was announced last year; many communities rallied to keep their post offices open, and last week, USPS acknowledged that public opposition to closures had played a role in the strategic shift away from closures.
“Although retail sales and foot traffic for most post offices has declined significantly in recent years, the Postal Service has received considerable feedback from communities around the country, requesting their post office remain open for business,” according to an overview of the new plan disseminated by the USPS.
The hours will not be cut immediately; rather, they will be phased in over a two-year period beginning on Labor Day and ending in September of 2014. The hours of each individual post office will be subject to further review before a final determination is made.
Communities will be given advance notice of public meetings to discuss the reduced hours.
Brennan said the move is not just a stop-gap measure.
“Right now, there is no plan to revisit closings,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed support for the idea, although she said the USPS must work to ensure that the reduced hours are those that are most convenient for their customers.
Here is how the plan proposed by the U.S. Postal Service will affect local post offices:
• Bailey Island hours will be reduced from eight to four each day.
• Bowdoin hours will be reduced from six to two.
• Chebeague Island hours will be reduced from eight to four.
• Cliff Island hours will be reduced from eight to two.
• Long Island hours will be reduced from eight to six.
• Orr’s Island hours will be reduced from eight to six.
• South Freeport hours will be reduced from eight to six.