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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Services: The post office does not have enough branches in the countryside

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Where is the nearest post office? Just around the corner – at least that’s often the case in big cities. In the countryside, on the other hand, the distances are further. In some places too far, as an authority is now reporting.

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The post office has too few post offices in the country. As the Federal Network Agency informed dpa, there are currently around 140 “unoccupied mandatory locations” in Germany.

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According to an ordinance, there must be at least one branch in every municipality with more than 2000 inhabitants. With a population of 4,000 or more, a branch in contiguously built-up residential areas may not be further away than two kilometers. Swiss Post does not meet such requirements at the 140 mandatory locations mentioned.

In most cases, this concerns rural areas. In relation to the approximately 13,000 stationary facilities operated by Swiss Post nationwide, the proportion of vacant locations is small.

External service providers with a post office counter

By post office we mean above all external service providers who, in addition to their core business, also have a post office counter and sell stamps or accept parcels – such as supermarkets and kiosks. There are also around 800 Postbank finance centers that offer postal services. There are only two larger branches that belong to the Bonn group itself: one is in the German Bundestag and the other in the Bonn company headquarters.

As the supervisory authority, the Federal Network Agency monitors whether Swiss Post is complying with the regulations. With regard to the vacant locations, a spokesman for the authorities says: “We are in regular contact with Deutsche Post AG.” He points out that many of these locations are “only temporarily vacant within the framework of the usual and expected fluctuation”.

A Post spokesman emphasizes that about 99 percent of all mandatory locations are covered with branches. “In the few locations where this isn’t the case, there is often no retail at all, so there are no shops that could offer universal postal services on our behalf.” In such cases, the Post tries to offer a stationary facility with its own staff, “although the customer frequency of such branches is very low,” says the spokesman. Such locations are open on weekdays, but have reduced opening hours.

Alternatives, especially in urban areas

In addition to the branches, the post office in Germany claims to have around 10,500 parcel shops, 2,000 stamp sales points and 11,000 packing stations, the latter being machines for accepting and delivering parcels. However, these locations play no role in fulfilling the obligation to issue a regulation. Depending on the customer’s wishes, they are an alternative to post offices. However, such alternatives are mainly found in urban areas – so if the only post office in a village closes, other post facilities are not very often to be found locally.

The CSU member of parliament Hansjörg Durz expresses criticism of the Bonn group. “The fact that there are no post offices in Germany in the lower three-digit range shows how well the postal infrastructure in Germany is sewn on edge,” he says, emphasizing that the post office must take into account possible branch closures by business partners. “In addition to the increasing number of complaints, this is further evidence that the requirements of the universal service are not being met.” This makes it clear “how necessary a timely revision of the postal law is,” says the Christsoziale.

The traffic light coalition wants to amend the outdated postal law. It was last thoroughly revised in 1999, a time when letters were much more important than in today’s internet age. The Federal Ministry of Economics will soon present key points on this, as can be seen from a response from the ministry to a parliamentary question from the Union faction. After that, the ministry intends to prepare a first version of the draft law in the course of the year.

post in review

The post has been criticized for some time because of problems with the delivery: In the past year, the staffing level was so thin in some places that letters arrived very late or not at all. The number of consumer complaints to the Federal Network Agency roughly tripled in 2022 compared to 2021. In order to increase the pressure on Swiss Post, the regulatory authority is calling for the possibility of sanctions against Swiss Post, i.e. fines or penalties. This could be regulated in the postal law amendment.

The FDP member of the Bundestag Reinhard Houben is in favor of such a sanction option. From his point of view, the deficits in the branch network that have now become known are further evidence that the Bonn-based group is not fulfilling its obligations as a universal service provider. “The Post commits itself to certain things, but then repeatedly fails to comply,” complains the liberal. “This leads to a loss of trust in the population – you feel led behind the spruce.”

Source: Stern

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