EUGENE, Ore. — U.S. Postal Service collection boxes — those blue metal boxes-on-legs where people dropped off their letters for the mail carrier to pick up — had their heyday in another century, but they still have an avid fan base.

U.S. Postal Service officials found out just how avid when they removed three south Eugene collection boxes because they apparently weren’t used much. The postal agency has since agreed to put the three back, and the collection-box advocate who pressed for the restoration says she’s not done yet.

After Heather Henderson noticed the three collection boxes had been removed from her south Eugene neighborhood, she sprang into action to find out why the Postal Service yanked them, and how to get them back. She soon found she was bucking the Postal Service’s plan for removing the squat blue mailboxes that, between 1900 and 1995, were on most city and neighborhood street corners.

The breakneck transition to email and online bill-paying in the past 20 years has drastically reduced use of the blue collection boxes, postal authorities said.

Henderson said her neighbors and local businesses in south Eugene were upset after three such boxes suddenly disappeared from the Edgewood Shopping Center on East 40th Avenue, from 30th Avenue and Hilyard Street, and from 20th Avenue and Patterson Street.

“It was a stealth removal,” said Henderson, who said that she soon discovered the Postal Service was removing many collection boxes in Eugene.

It isn’t just in Eugene, said Ernie Swanson, a Seattle-based spokesman for the Postal Service.

“The change in the number of collection boxes available to customers in Eugene is not unique,” Swanson wrote in an email in reply to questions about the removal. “The drastic change in Americans’ mailing habits has shifted the need for blue collection boxes and prompted the Postal Service to be more strategic in its placement of these boxes across the country. As reference, a single piece of first-class mail — the type of mail more common in collection boxes — shrunk from 45.9 billion pieces in 2005 to just 19.4 billion in 2016.”

In 2005, the Postal Service had 345,000 blue boxes. By last year, it had cut that to 148,250.

The boxes can be a drag on Postal Service spending because they typically have to be checked for mail at least once a day, and the less mail they contain, the less efficient it is for the service to keep them.

Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass said Eugene now has 107 blue collection boxes, after a winnowing earlier in the year.

“After the Postal Service’s regular review of customers’ use of collection boxes around the city, a total of 17 boxes were taken out of service,” Haas wrote in an email. “In all but a handful of these locations, two boxes were originally in place, and the removal of one box still left a single box available. These removals are all as a result of monitoring the volume of mail placed in the box, indicating that the boxes are used sparingly by our customers in these locations.”

Henderson said that isn’t what she discovered when she went door-to-door at the businesses in the Edgewood Shopping Center, handing out fliers with strips on them bearing a Postal Service complaint line number that people could call to object to removal of the collection boxes.

She also posted them a few weeks ago at various locations in south Eugene.

“Mostly, I handed out fliers to businesses in person,” she said. “And every single business owner I approached was more than happy to take fliers and pass the word.”

“The word” made it through to the Postal Service.

“As a result of customer feedback,” Haas wrote, “collection boxes will be restored … to the following locations: 3075 Hilyard St., 4000 Donald St. and 2055 Patterson St.”

Henderson said she is grateful the Postal Service — struggling to survive in the electronic age — was so responsive.


Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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THERESA NOVAK
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