The financial woes of the United States Post Office have been in the news lately. Many explanations have been given for the Post Office's problems, from having to pay unfairly high amounts for future pensions to reduced mail volume due to the Internet. Yet I see another cause.
Take a look at postal rates. Not the amount of the postal rate, but how postage is calculated. There used to be a simple set of rates for letters by weight, and packages by weight and service (first class or parcel post). Priority Mail was added, which was essentially a renamed first class package service.
Today, it's not so simple. A simple letter still takes one stamp, but anything more is subject to numerous rules. The size, thickness, and flexibility of an envelope is factored in along with the weight in an increasingly complex formula of surcharges to determine postage. Packages are just as bad. The only reliable way to send a package is using flat rate envelopes or boxes. With these the rate is fixed. But anything which won't fit into a flat rate box, especially a larger box, is subject to surcharges for the size or shape.
Last Christmas I sent a gift to my brother. The packages wasn't heavy -- under 10 pounds, but it was larger than the Post Office's opinion of what a 10 pound package should weigh. Given the size of the package, I was quoted $35.00 postage. Instead I went to Fed Ex and sent it ground service for about $8.00. Last week I sold something through Amazon. The buyer got the package and asked for reimbursement because the post office charged him $2.10 extra postage. Since I know I had the weight and package dimensions correct, I don't know where the extra charge came from. I refunded the money and have to chalk it up to the cost of selling something that won't fit into a flat rate box.
I recently looked at international rates. I wanted the cost of sending a letter outside the US. In the past there has been a simple rate sheet which gave the cost of letters to Canada and Mexico (one rate) or the rest of the world (a slightly higher rate). I finally found this cost after jumping through a half dozen links. There are literally pages and pages of regulations about the nature of the letter being sent, extras that can be purchased, etc. (spelled out separately for each country of the world) with the actual rates buried almost as a footnote.
So chalk up another reason the Post Office is going broke -- more bureaucracy creating more and more new rules and regulations ensuring that it will soon be impossible to determine the postage of anything other than a 1 page letter without the help of an expert.