Montréal, le 6 février 1999
Numéro 30
(page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          An article in the Montreal Gazette the other day made mention of Canada Post's plans to introduce some kind of electronic mailing system. I wish them well. Although I do wonder how they will manage to deliver electronic mail faster and more securely than is now possible using suitably encrypted conventional E-mail correspondence. Perhaps they will use an encryption method that will not be made available to the general public. 
          According to the article, a Canada Post spokesman was quoted as saying that E-mail is not a robust enough tool for business communications. The article also made reference to the « mind boggling world of E-mail attachments. » Are there really some people having trouble with sending or receiving attachments? 
          Canada Post as an organization, not some of the very fine individuals who work for it with whom I come into contact, is a disaster in the making.  
Canada Post is improving your service 
          Some years ago, my local post office had two, and sometimes even three, knowledgeable people at the counter to minister to one's mailing needs. The staff was then reduced to two and more recently it has been reduced to one. In fact, the counter space has now been so arranged that only one person may work at it. Now, for the first time in years I invariably encounter a queue of people waiting to send a package or to buy stamps. Accompanying the reduction in counter space was a new computer system coupled with a weighing scale. To the side of this, was a small notice informing the waiting public that Canada Post is improving its service. 
          While, after the training period, the postal clerks are now fully proficient in operating their new computerized system it seems to me that mailing a letter or package takes a great deal longer than it used to do when the clerk threw the package on the scale and immediately quoted the price.  
          A few days ago I went to one of those outlets which Canada Post has placed in our local shopping mall as an excuse for no longer providing efficient service at the post office. There it stood, a counter fully equipped with scale and supplies, no computer, no queue; and no clerk. A small bell on the counter was there to be rung to summon the clerk. I rang it twice but no one appeared. Perhaps the staff in that establishment are hearing impaired. Maybe in that establishment a discussion of last night's hockey game, one's latest boy friend or social life is more important than attending to a customer's needs. It doesn't seem to me that this represents any improvement in service levels.  
2% success rate 
          One of the small pleasures in my life is reading, and among the many different forms in which my reading material arrives is the weekly magazine. One special magazine, which I have enjoyed for many years, is published in the US each Thursday and arrives in Montreal on Friday morning: it being hoped by its publisher that it is in the hands of the subscribers by the following Monday or, at the latest, Tuesday. For some time I kept track of the actual dates of arrival, and the results were quite interesting; though disappointing. For example, during the 10 month test period it arrived on the following Tuesday twice, but never on a Monday. That is a success rate of under 2% 
          I took the trouble to write to the President of Canada Post and was assured, by a subordinate of course, that efforts would be made to improve delivery times. Surprisingly, Canada Post does have standards which it uses to measure its performance. It seems to me though, that while they may well measure performance they don't seem to use the results to improve their service levels. Canada Post magazine delivery standards call for a delivery cycle of 4 days from date of deposit at their facility, excluding weekends and statutory holidays of course. I discovered from the publisher, that my magazine is « deposited » in Montreal around 4:00 a.m. each Friday morning.  
          So in the worst case, assuming that the Monday is a holiday, the magazine should arrive on the following Thursday, the day the publisher sends the next weeks issue to Montreal. Including all the holidays, it has arrived on or before the following Thursday only 22% of the time, and has even arrived on one occasion fourteen days after it was deposited. Most recently, I received the issues of January 2nd and January 9th one day apart on January 12th. The latter being one of the rare times that the magazine arrived on a Tuesday. 
          Just before Christmas, a friend in St-Léonard mailed a letter to me weighing 28 grams complete with a 90 cent stamp on it. The weight limit for first class mail with a 45 cent stamp is 30 grams and this letter bore twice the required amount of postage. I received the letter on January 12, which is a total of twenty two calendar days, or fifteen if you use the Canada Post mathematical system. Now it is about 60 miles from my friend's place of business to my house and I had always thought that some part of the postal service is conducted by motorized vehicle of some kind. Based on this performance, a man walking at a relaxed but steady 3 mph for eight hours a day could have made the trip to my house in two and a half days. Somehow Canada Post seems to be unable to manage even that pace.  
          After years of putting up with this kind of service one becomes used to it. This is not the case in another countries which I am familiar. In England. they still have two mail deliveries each weekday and one on Saturday. In larger towns, a letter mailed in the morning will sometimes be delivered in the afternoon. A letter mailed in my home town in Canada on Wednesday was delivered in Manchester, England three days later on Saturday; but a letter to me from that city mailed on December 18th arrived here on January 15th. 
Not much progress in the last 508 years 
          Back in 1490, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had his residence at Mechelen (Malines) in Belgium. Needing to send written messages throughout his empire, which included Austria and Spain, he engaged the services of one Franz von Tassis to transport and deliver his letters. The contract stated that it would become null and void « if a letter from Mechelen to Paris takes longer than 7½ days ». The same fate would befall von Tassis if the letter took longer than 11 days to reach Innsbruck, Austria. Now, the distance from Mechelen to Paris is about 170 miles so it doesn't seem that we have made very much progress during the last 508 years! 
          The much discussed « Information Highway » is supposed to improve matters to the point where some day we will be able to sit at our home computer terminal, dial up the name of the publication and receive instantaneously the latest issue of our favourite magazine. What all this may do to our eyesight has not yet been determined, perhaps someone will invent a large print Video terminal for wrinklies such as I. 
          Until that day arrives, I will have to continue to tolerate indifferent postal service and the old Emperor Maximilian will keep on spinning in his grave.  
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