United Parcel Service recently praised “impressive efforts by the Postal Service to reduce costs and improve productivity” but criticized USPS's request for emergency rate hikes.
The Postal Service’s request for “exigent” rate increases on “Market-Dominant” mail is “an unsustainable business model which can only lead to continued postal deficits and more requests to exceed the rate cap,” UPS wrote in a filing last week with the Postal Regulatory Commission. Instead, USPS’s “Competitive” products should bear a larger share of the agency’s institutional costs, according to UPS, which is a major competitor, customer, and vendor of the Postal Service.
Market-Dominant mail includes such classes as First-Class, Standard, and Periodicals, where USPS’s mailbox monopoly is a huge barrier to competition. Rate increases for such mail can generally be no greater than the rate of inflation, except USPS is seeking higher rates starting in January to compensate for revenue it lost as a result of the recent recession.
By contrast, “Competitive” services include expedited and parcel delivery, where USPS tends to compete head on with UPS, FedEx, and other private businesses. For such mail, USPS can charge what the market will bear. But much of the category’s profit gets tied up in a Competitive Products Fund that the Postal Service cannot easily access.
In the past six years, “Competitive Product revenues have grown by more than 40%, while Postal Service mail and services revenues as a whole have fallen by about 13%.”
Nevertheless, Competitive Products have continued to pay only 5.5% of USPS’s institutional costs, while the unprofitable Market-Dominant category covers the rest.
“Competitive Products’ share of total Postal Service revenue has risen from approximately 11% in FY2008 to over 18% in FY2012,” UPS wrote. “This trend is likely to continue, with Competitive Products expected to account for more than 20% of total postal revenue in FY2013 and over 23% in FY2014.”
Yet the Postal Service’s pricing strategy runs counter to the customary tactic of hiking prices based on rising demand.
“The Postal Service proposes a Market-Dominant average rate increase of more than 5.9%, while it proposes a Competitive Products average rate increase of only 2.4%, with no rate increase for Priority Mail overall,” UPS notes.
Breaching the inflation-based price cap on Market-Dominant mail will “accelerate” the ongoing decline in such mail, UPS claims.
“In short, it is unsustainable for the Postal Service to continue to rely on shrinking Market-Dominant volumes to pay the vast majority of institutional costs. The Commission should require growing Competitive Product revenues to contribute a more equitable share.”
The UPS filing doesn’t spell out the company’s motives. Its proposal would tend to cause larger price increases for the Postal Service’s Competitive Products, which go head to head with UPS’s own offerings and are gaining market share. But because it often outsources the “last mile” of delivery to the Postal Service’s vast carrier network, UPS also has a genuine interest in the health of Market-Dominant mail.
UPS’s filing doesn’t seem to be the work of a company that, as some conspiracy theorists claim, secretly wants to take over the Postal Service. Instead, its actions are consistent with its 2009 statement that, "We believe that the government plays a role in terms of ensuring that every mailbox is reached every day. That is not a responsibility that UPS would want.”