Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Public Mail System In Need of a Public

Peru´s national mail system, SERPOST, is probably the most underutilized public service in the country. Hardly anyone trusts in its ability to deliver the mail. So the major utilities, for example, don´t use it to distribute their bills. They prefer to hire a private courier service or maintain their own staff of delivery people. Their customers generally don´t have bank accounts (partly because they don´t trust banks any more than they trust the postal service) and they certainly don´t trust postal employees to handle mail containing money. So they don´t use SERPOST to make utility payments, either. They prefer to ride a bus for half an hour to the nearest office of the utility and wait in line for an hour or more.

Consequently the volume of the service is so low that they have to charge very high prices for postage to cover their fixed costs (about $2 to mail a simple letter to the U.S. or $25 to send a two pound package -- both rates about double the rate for U.S. postage to Peru). And because they can only afford to place a couple of employees at each of their offices, many of the less frequently used services are offered in only a few locations. For example, if you want to purchase a $20 money order, you can go to any bank branch and pay a $10 commission to obtain one, while you can get one for just a $3 fee at SERPOST -- but only if you´re willing to go to their branch in Miraflores, about forty minutes from where I live.

As if to confirm the near invisibility of the postal service in Peru, the SERPOST office in Chorrillos doesn´t even have a sign anywhere identifying it as a post office. There is, however, one very positive aspect of this otherwise seemingly hopeless situation: nobody receives junk mail!

No comments: