Post office will close window, introduce mail service kiosk

IMG_0376Danny Fisher / Editor-in-Chief

Two University of Alaska Fairbanks employees will lose their positions at the campus post office as Facilities Services attempts to cut costs by installing a mail service kiosk.  Martin Klein, who oversees the post office, expects the Pitney Bowes kiosk to be ready for use before Sept. 30, on which date the mail counter will be closed.

Letter delivery will not be affected by these changes; boxholders will still receive paper mail in their box.  Package pick-up, however, will be handled through a window on the opposite end of the hall, which will be open from noon – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Post office administrators plan to install “package lockers,” nearer to the end of the school year, which would allow patrons to pick up their packages without assistance, eliminating the need for the pick-up window.  Persons expecting package delivery would be notified via a package slip, email or text message that would give them a temporary code to access a locker and receive the package.  When this system is operational, Klein said, the pick-up window would be closed.

The new kiosk, which is currently located to the left of the mail counter, will allow users to buy postage, mail letters and weigh and label packages that can then be deposited securely into a receptacle or into the mailroom to be mailed.

Customers will be able to use the machine during all hours Constitution Hall is open.  The kiosk is able to accept credit and debit card payment, which is a new option for the campus post office.  However, it is not equipped to accept payment by cash or check.

In the past, the post office mail counter has been partially funded with a subsidy provided by the United States Postal Service.  Over the years, the cost of operating the mail counter has risen, while the subsidy has remained the same.  According to Klein, the subsidy was $72,000, and the annual cost of operation was about $116,000.  The university will no longer receive the subsidy in the absence of a functioning mail counter.

The kiosk has cost Mail Services about $22,000 to purchase and install, and has an annual operating cost of $1,200.  The machine has a two year warranty, and after it expires the University will be responsible for the cost of any necessary repairs.

Klein expects the discontinuation of the mail counter to result in $42,000 of annual savings.  That, alongside other cost-cuts from updating mail processing machines and reducing maintenance costs, will result in a $408,000 budget for the 2016 fiscal year, down from $502,400 during the 2015 fiscal year.

The decision to discontinue the mail counter and install a kiosk was considered by the Chancellor’s Cabinet and presented to the Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (ASUAF) for feedback around finals week of the Spring 2015 Semester.  ASUAF did not issue an official response about the changes.  “Members of the group were excited about the ability to use credit cards,” Klein said.

“I guess I get it,” Sophie Hill, a second-year student, said.  “I actually really do love going to the post office and everyone is really nice there, but I don’t think it will be the end of the world when it changes,” Hill said.

“I don’t think it will be too bad.  I don’t really go to the post office to socialize,” Drew Gates, a petroleum engineering student from California said.

Angela Schmidt, a UAF alumnus and employee at the Rasmuson Library, says that visiting the post office is part of her daily routine, and that she is concerned about the window’s closure.  “Being able to communicate with a real person provides a tangible connection to home, and a welcoming introduction to UAF,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt cites the usefulness of having someone there to help people work through international mailing services, find buildings on campus, send money orders, and more.  “Their personal service cannot be replaced by a kiosk,” Schmidt said.

More kiosks may be installed in the post office or around campus within the next few years, depending on user feedback.  The office hours for the package pick-up window will be subject to change within the first few months of operation, also depending on customer reactions.

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