Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Post Box Closures: A Sensible Reform

In G.K. Chesterton's story "The Blue Cross", the exploits are given of Flambeau, the "colossus of crime", including this one - " It is quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put up at corners in quiet suburbs on the chance of strangers dropping postal orders into it." Sadly, the postal order, along with the wedding telegram, have gone, but despite the changes in society, and the massive fall in the use of post boxes by the general public since the days of the postal order, the number of boxes in Jersey has remained constant until now, some almost completely unused, but still consuming the same amount of manpower as in the 1950s and 1960s. This is all about to change.
Just over 25% of the Island's post boxes are being closed over the next few months, provoking rather emotional reports from the Jersey Evening Post, such as: "More than a quarter of post boxes in Jersey are to be scrapped as part of major changes to the postal service"
This is seen as a cost-cutting exercise with little or no regard for the historical significance of the Post Boxes. But this is not the case. Jersey Post - I have been personally informed by Kevin Keen, the Chief Executive - is sympathetic to the historical importance of some the boxes, and some, anyway, (as he told me) cannot be easily removed where they form part of the fabric of a building. Where they can be removed, a photographic record would be taken.
Post boxes were first introduced to the British Isle in Jersey by Anthony Trollope, who got the idea from similar designs in France. The first ones were made at the local foundry of Vaudin & Son, and were erected in David Place, New Street, Cheapside and St Clement's Road,  St Helier and brought into public use on 23 November 1852.
But patterns of use have changed. Some of the older Post Boxes are in locations which seem obscure to us today, but which made sense in the Jersey before the Second World War, when motor cars were not plentiful on Jersey's roads, and most people travelled by foot or by horse, with many more working on the land, in the fields. Hence they are tucked away in small side roads which would have been busy at that time.
There is a Victorian one at the top of St Aubin's High Street, which overlooks a great view of St Aubin's Bay, but the many pedestrians who used to come down what was in those days, a main thoroughfare into St Aubin's village, have long gone, and the last average daily samplings showed no mail being posted at all. Who, after all, would climb the hill to post mail, when there is a perfectly good post box by the Parish Hall?
One can see the changing culture of Jersey in the locations. George Rex signifies either George V or George VI, and these can be seen along the path taken by the railways. Post-war, the Elizabeth II post boxes mirror the increase of tourism and the boom years.
But changing patterns of postal use have led to a decline, and many boxes remain empty or have a minimal amount of daily mail. Most people correspond more by texts, tweets or email today than by post; conversational letter writing is a dying art. More bills are paid by electronic means, leading to less post.
To obtain the changing patterns of use, four sampling periods were taken over a period from 2011 to 2013 were undertaken by Jersey Post, with one specifically just focused on the "low volume" boxes identified from the earlier periods. The final sample took place this year and enabled Jersey Post to also identify trends in declining usage.
It is not surprising that there are these changes. Today, rather than purchasing and posting a postcard at Bonne Nuit, the tourist will probably take a picture on their smart phone, and have it almost instantly displayed on social media sites, to share with friends and family. It is not surprising that Bonne Nuit, for example, shows a daily average of zero. And the tourist landscape has also changed; there is no longer any hotel at Bonne Nuit.
But at present, at least once a day, a Jersey Post worker has to drive down to the bay, and open the box, and check that it is, in fact, still empty, while gently removing the odd snail. It must be a demoralising experience to do this so often, for so many boxes in rural locations, and it also means that there is significant daily mileage covered, and an environmental cost.
There are also other locations, for example at St Aubin, where there is a sub-post office, and two post boxes within a few yards from each other. Where boxes are in such close proximity, it makes sense to retain the larger.
What will be happening over the next few months?
The 51 boxes identified for closure by the sampling process will be taken out of service over the next three months, with five new ones being added for relocated. For example, it makes sense for a post box to be in a more central position in St Brelade's Bay, rather than located on the periphery, where historically there had been a sub post-office.
Phase 1 sees 14 boxes closed by the end of July. Phase 2 sees 19 more boxes being taken out of service by the end of August. Phase 3 sees a final 18 boxes taken out of service by the end of September.
'Notice of Closure' plates will be going into all Phase 1 boxes starting today and a 3 week-notice period will be given prior to the physical closure of all Phase 2 and Phase 3 boxes.
On closure, the boxes will be sealed and plates put in advising of the nearest alternative box
No final decision has yet been made regarding the removal and possible auctioning of the closed boxes. Each case will be considered on its own merits and Jersey Post will liaise with 'Heritage' and other appropriate parties before any final decision is implemented.
Changes in society require sensible reforms with businesses. These reforms free up resources which can be channeled into improving the existing postal service.
Alongside the removal of boxes that are scarcely used, collection services from sub-post offices will be significantly increased. A new 4 pm Monday to Friday collection will be made from all sub post-offices except Broad Street (which will be at 4.30pm) and Rue des Pres (at 5.30 pm). This will ensure more mail leaves the Island on the same day.
An additional collection will be made at 6 am from all sub-post office boxes and some other high volume boxes, so that additional local mail can also be delivered the same day.
And relocating some boxes to places where they are better placed for access and road safety also means more people will be able to use them.
Jersey Post is changing postal collections to be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular, the post boxes and collections must reflect current needs, and this modernisation plan seeks to adapt it to patterns of use in today's society. Anthony Trollope who was first and foremost an innovator, looking for ways to make a better service for the general public, and a more efficient one, would surely approve.


James said...

Sadly, the postal order, along with the wedding telegram, have (sic) gone

It hasn't. Actually there are now some organisations which will not take cheques at all and anyone who doesn't have a debit card is forced to use postal orders. (ISTR that certain embassies and consulates have gone this way with payments for visas).

TonyTheProf said...

James is right.
Jersey sells and accepts British Postal Orders.

I'd love to know the volume over here though; I suspect it is minimal.

TonyTheProf said...

GST can actually be paid "By post using a cheque or postal order"!

TonyTheProf said...

The restrictions on postal orders and the % mark up are amazing!


So the husband trots around to the local sub post office last week to acquire the postal order.

It turns out to be a pricey piece of paper. I scoffed in disbelief when he said it cost £12,50 (didn't he mean 12p?), but checking on the web I discover that there is indeed an admin fee of 12.5% of the value of the order, capped at £12.50. Makes even your credit card look cheap.

Anyway when it comes to paying, he gets his debit card out, only to be told by the woman behind the counter that he must pay in cash. He protests that last time he bought one (also for an Indian visa) he paid by debit card. That was, she retorted, absolutely impossible. It has bever been allowed to buy a postal order with a debit card; he can't be remembering straight. Cash or nothing.

He had no option but to leave the post office and find the nearest bank machine, get the cash and return to the back of the queue and start the whole palaver all over again. (Anyone who knows our local sub post office will know how long that will have taken ....almost longer than it used to take to queue at india House.)

Back home, and still cross, the husband decides to ring up the Post Office customer service line to complain. The man on the other end of the line explains that the woman behind the counter was quite right, you cannot buy a postal order with a debit card. Why? Because of money laundering regulations, he explains.