Most of us living in highly urbanized areas of Australia have had the experience of finding the dreaded Australia Post Ticket upon arriving home after work. No sooner do we see the ticket than we realize, feeling slightly sick, that we will most likely need to find time during working hours to physically go to the post office with our identification over the next few days, join a long queue, and retrieve a package. Worse, our partner cannot do this task for us, if the package is addressed to us alone; and we know from experience that if we ring the phone number on the ticket, all we will succeed in doing after being on hold is to confirm that the package exists and will soon be on its merry way back from whence it came, if we do not hurry up and come get it. Arranging for its actual delivery is out of the question.
We can of course ignore the whole issue, and forego whatever goods are in the package, which I have done more than once. Depending on where you live, there may be an option of signing the ticket with a big red tick-mark next to “Please Leave Package” and praying upon your departure that morning that the postman will actually leave the package on your doorstep. In some locations this might not be wise due to the likelihood of theft. Where I live at least, this is not an option because the postman simply does not deliver packages. Period.
I would like to think that this is not entirely his fault. He may well be instructed by the main office to cover his route so quickly that he essentially has no choice. He already must fight with the ubiquitous antique letterboxes constructed to be just large enough to accommodate approximately one formal acceptance of your luncheon invitation, one handwritten thank-you note from the neighbour for the lovely daffodils, and two small calling-cards from travelling salesmen. The perennial creative folding and stuffing (not to mention tearing) of modern mail that are therefore part of our postman’s everyday job already slow him down and frustrate him. Finding some way to actually deliver packages – including not only lugging them around but ringing doorbells, often hanging around until he realizes no one is coming, and filling out and leaving tickets on the spot – is probably just a bridge too far, particularly considering that to make it through his route on time he almost must use one of those little AusPost mopeds, on which there is simply no space to carry packages. So, he fills out all package tickets before he leaves the distribution centre, and heads off each day with no intent of delivering any packages.
Or so I wish to believe. It could be that our postmen are simply getting away with doing less than their full job because of poor monitoring, the monopolistic hue of AusPost, and/or sticky labor contracts.
Whatever the reason, the non-delivery of packages results in a huge cost shift from the post office to consumers. The asymmetry involved in the actual trade is also unusual: the person or business sending the package, often sitting in some foreign land, does not have to pay any extra cost if it is not actually carried the final kilometer or so to our door. If the recipient does not build the expected package-pickup cost into his decision about whether or not to make the trade in the first place, then the trade perhaps should not have even occurred.
In the long run of course, that cost should be built into our decisions. Yet do we really accept that for some Australia-specific reason, our postal infrastructure cannot exploit the returns to scale in package delivery that are exploited by the national postal systems in other developed countries? Besides, do we really want Aussie consumers ordering less stuff from overseas because of what is effectively a big fat import tax? Doesn’t sound very FTA to me.
Even without knowing the AusPost revenue or cost structures in detail, we can still weigh up a few potential economic options for addressing this problem.
- Have Aus Post admit (which won’t be easy) that they cannot deliver every package on the day it arrives. Have a logistics team work out an optimal day of the week on which packages will be delivered for each postal route, and advise residents. Allocate a van or some other cheap but capacious vehicle for the postman to use on that day, rather than his moped. If recipients are home on that day, then their package is delivered; if not, they must deal with the Dreaded Ticket. I predict that this would solve 50% of the problem, and reduce post office queues accordingly.
- Allow people to sign up for subsidized package-hold services at their local post offices, whereby any packages delivered to their address are held for some reasonable amount of time – at least a month or two – in order to allow the recipient enough time to find a chance to collect them. This idea is already being trialled by the private sector.
- Use a tiered pricing system, where guaranteed actual delivery of a package is an extra service that attracts a higher price, similar to the idea of registered versus regular mail. One problem here is integrating the different options effectively into the infinite variety of senders’ online ordering platforms. However, this could also be implemented as a default on the recipient side, whereby a consumer can sign up (for a price) for a “deliver my packages” premium service that kicks in by default whenever a package arrives.
- Have the government offer partial subsidies for consumers to replace their antique mailboxes with some receptacle that can accommodate as much incoming mail as a standard post office box, with no stuffing or tearing required. Use the accumulated time savings across an entire postal route to fund an extra package-delivery run across the route at the end of each day.