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GLOBE AND MAIL Thursday, Nov. 05, 2015 3:29PM

I designed the Canada Post community mailbox, but send your hate mail elsewhere

ROSS J. SLADE

Ross J. Slade is a semi-retired Canadian design consultant based in Umbria, Italy.

I designed the Canada Post community mailbox 34 years ago. Since that day, my creation has been maligned.

Over the years, I have watched in horror as the box I designed with only the best intentions has been horribly mismanaged in its growth. The boxes that are now plaguing Canadian communities were never meant to multiply like mushrooms – they were designed for a maximum of three units at any one site. Decision-makers removed the rigid base that provided reasonable access, unit protection has been removed, and they have been placed on the ground – seemingly thrown from trucks. They have created walls of them. And now, insult to injury, they have replaced them with a U.S.-sourced unit that has corporation graphics applied to it.

Back in 1981, a task group at Canada Post was formed to solve the growing problem of delivering to new and suburban communities. Letter-carrier service was no longer financially viable: anything but a very densely populated area doesn’t have enough households to justify the expense. As new communities were created, a more cost-efficient delivery system was needed. That is where I came in, as the sole industrial designer at the corporation.

Given our weather conditions, a box designed for Canadian needs would have to be developed. The security of mail and the safety of these proposed mailboxes in wintery conditions were other important factors influencing the design.

The hardware was on legs with a clear area underneath, so snow from passing plows would clear passage under the units and not build up against the front. It also meant dodgy individuals could not hide behind them.

Issues arose during the full implementation of these mass produced units in the initial four communities. Some marketing type, without consultation, renamed the new thing the SuperMailBox. Talk about asking for trouble.

My intention was that the brown colour and a raw aluminium front that the boxes would blend into the environment - the raw aluminium protecting itself and going a dull grey with age. Unfortunately the Quebec manufacturer was precluded by law from sandblasting the finish of the raw casting as specified and used steel shot instead - so the initial models rusted.

The box I had spent more than four years developing was by then considered important enough to involve an engineer. I was less than happy. The engineer’s solution, without consultation, was a hurried application of a special 3M coating to protect it rather than find an alternate blasting material for the desired effect, the front of the box was doubled in price overnight. Design thwarted by terrible execution would be an ongoing theme.

I left the corporation in 1986, having enjoyed one of the best jobs I ever had. I set up my own design company in Ottawa and was successful at that. I retired here to Umbria, Italy, in 2005.

I do not mean to sound bitter: Mismanagement happens all the time to a designer’s initial product. One hopes that a product is improved over the years, and that has not happened in this case.

To consider that some people are forced to use barbecue tongs to aid in the retrieval of post – how else to get letters that are stuck at the back of the tiny, narrow space – is beyond laughable. The headaches caused by these poorly designed and executed mailboxes are an insult to the designer – and a major humiliation to the present decision makers at Canada Post.

As the designer of a functional unit created for the Canadian public, I need you, reader, to know that this is not the fault of the original design, but the travesty of decisions to implement a foreign product that was not made for the Canadian climate and needs. It will merely continue as a reminder of postal failure.

GLOBE AND MAIL  Monday, July 5, 2010 3:36 PM

Canada Post taps credit markets in a big way

Tim Kiladze

Canada Post Corp. has announced its first major public debt offering, expected to raise up to $1-billion, after the three major Canadian rating agencies announced the mail deliverer earned their highest ratings.

The offering consists of two tranches: one 15-year, the other 30-year, but their exact split hasn’t been set. The offering’s spread over Canada bonds is also still undetermined.

The announcement is the first big move since Ottawa increased Canada Post’s external borrowing limit to $2.5-billion from $300-million in 2009. The increase coincided with a new capital investment initiative, dubbed the “Postal Transformation” plan, to build new facilities and invest in new equipment.

As an agent of the government, Canada Post’s debt will be obligations of both the company and the federal government, hence the Triple-A ratings from DBRS and Standard & Poors, and Aaa from Moody’s.

In the past few years Canada Post has had to adapt to a considerable decline in the volume of letter mail it delivers each day. Although it has seen a 4 per cent rise in the points of delivery it services, its pieces of mail per household fell 10 per cent over the same period.

To adjust, the company cut around $500-million in costs over the past two years, and the new modernization plan is expected to save $250-million annually by 2017.

The debt offering is co-led by TD Securities and RBC Dominion Securities. The specific use of proceeds is still undetermined, but just last month Canada Post opened a $100-million plant in Winnipeg, its first in 20 years, and new equipment is planned for facilities in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton this year.

A Closer Look at Postal Transformation

PUBLISHED ON CANADA POST WEBSITE TUESDSAY JULY 6, 2010

The mission of the Postal Transformation program is the “renewal of Canada Post’s physical and electronic network to create the Modern Post.”

Our goals are to modernize and/or replace obsolete plants, equipment and processes, improve efficiency, productivity and employee safety and to build a foundation for new and improved service offering capabilities.

Read about the latest developments on this journey.

Modern equipment means faster processing times and less downtime

Canada Post relies heavily on automated mail sorting equipment to deliver affordable and quality service. We are replacing aging equipment within our sorting plants with new state-of-the-art mail processing equipment capable of automating the sequencing of short and long mail to a much finer degree.

Some of the benefits of these changes include:

  • Improved processing of mail
    • Modern equipment means faster processing times (approximately 25% faster than our current equipment) and less downtime.
    • Reduced manual handling and more streamlined processes.
    • Streamlined delivery model.
  • Enhancements to current offerings
  • Faster redirection of mail
    • Ability for ‘inline’ redirection resulting in faster turnaround.
    • Ability for parcel redirection is also in the planning stage.
  • Improved address management
    • Improved address management resulting in reduction of undeliverable mail and better return on investment.

New model for delivering the mail

One vivid example of Canada Post’s transformation will be how we deliver the mail in major urban centres. Instead of maintaining separate workforces on foot and in vehicles for delivering mail and parcels, we will equip our carriers with fuel-efficient vehicles to deliver all products in a geographical area.

This may sound basic, but having the ability to deliver all of your mail, including parcels, to you and your customers all at once is a major change. It further allows us to be even more efficient.

Our delivery vehicles will be equipped with portable data terminals to allow delivery agents direct access in real time to the full range of Canada Post communication services, including the ability to update delivery information for parcel tracking or confirm incorrect customer addresses and further improve delivery efficiency.

Looking forward

After Winnipeg, Postal Transformation will focus on our existing facilities in Toronto, Hamilton Montreal and Ottawa, where new mail processing equipment will be installed and the new delivery model rolled out in selected depots.

Companies like yours are guiding us

Customer panels
Customer sessions are being held to help us think through the proposed changes from a customer’s perspective. These sessions give us the opportunity to leverage our customers’ experience, expertise and knowledge.

Customers have told us they appreciate that Canada Post is taking a collaborative and engaged approach with them when initiating change. This allows us to gain a better understanding of what customers value, new areas for improvements and how we can best introduce change.

We can proudly say that many of the improvements are the direct result of the feedback received from our customers, such as:

  • Allowing the continued use of monotainers as a shipping unit.
  • Developing the new Machineable Presort option for Addressed Admail™.

Board of Advisors

In addition to the customer sessions, we’ve invited a cross section of executives from various industries to participate on our Board of Advisors. These “thought partners” share their experience with us to ensure the customer perspective is being considered.

Globe editorial

Canada Post bond issue: wait a minute, Mr. Postman

Postal workers sort mail at the Canada Post plant on Dixie Rd. at Eglinton Ave., Mississauga, Ont., in October 29, 2009.

Postal workers sort mail at the Canada Post plant on Dixie Rd. at Eglinton Ave., Mississauga, Ont., in October 29, 2009. The Globe and Mail

Canada Post Corp. is more and more a normal commercial business, so a new bond issue invites a renewed debate on whether the post office should be privatized.

From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2010 8:00PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2010 11:36PM EDT

Canada Post Corp. is more and more a normal commercial business, and less and less a public service that is necessary to all Canadians. Consequently, the liability that all Canadian taxpayers will incur – which could be as much as $1-billion – from the company's new bond issues, which were announced on Monday, invites a renewed debate on whether the post office should be privatized. As things stand, the federal government guarantees all the financial obligations of Canada Post.

It is a long time since 1851, when the novelist Anthony Trollope, a civil servant for the British post office, proposed that five-foot-high iron letter boxes should be set up along public roads and streets. Now, e-mail, texting, online banking and other such technologies make it likely that letter mail as we have known it will disappear. Already, many people only rarely buy stamps or put anything in a mailbox. From 2008 to 2009, the volume of pieces of mail in Canada fell by one billion.

Moya Greene, the departing CEO of Canada Post, is going to Britain to become the CEO of the Royal Mail, an implicit recognition of her success in Canada. Yet the continuing profits of the corporation have mostly been achieved by strenuous cost-cutting.

Ms. Greene herself looks ahead to a time when post offices will supply e-post, a “super-secure” electronic service that travels independently of the Internet – in other words, a premium product that is a far cry from the universal service obligation now professed by Canada Post. She predicts that “every Canadian household” will have “a mailbox outside their door to get the newspaper” and “inside their home ... an electronic box called e-post.”

Moreover, she welcomes British proposals to privatize all or part of the Royal Mail.

Meanwhile in Canada, however, the company's Postal Transformation program – which is what the $1-billion bond issue is financing – mostly consists of the replacement of mail-processing machinery from the 1970s and 1980s with new equipment that can sort much more quickly and with far greater detail: to each carrier's route, in the order that each carrier walks. That is a huge investment in an unsustainable business model, not a plan of transformation for the largely electronic future that is no longer remote.

There is still a case to be made for a universal service obligation, for those who cannot afford high-tech premium services. But Canadians should seriously considering privatizing Canada Post, treating it as a business that competes on equal terms with other businesses.

 

Steve Ladurantaye

From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Jul. 14, 2010 7:33PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 14, 2010 7:45PM EDT

The last time Canada Post went on an infrastructure spending spree, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and the average computer needed an entire room to itself.

In the three decades since introducing mechanical sorters to its plants in the 1970s, its executives constantly invested in people over technology, even as other industries looked to machines to increase their productivity and enhance their competitiveness.

Then the recession hit, and the consequences of those decisions came home to roost. An eight per cent drop in mail volume caused a $528-million revenue shortfall in 2009, which had to be patched over with management layoffs and productivity improvements on its lines.

Like many companies that are part of Canada’s productivity problem, Canada Post is now running to catch up. After years of doing less with more, it is staring into a future where it will need to do more with less.

It is fending off obsolescence with a $2-billion plan to upgrade the technology and infrastructure it will need to remain relevant in an increasingly digitized world that sees it delivering fewer pieces of mail, but to a greater number of locations.