Postal Service: 
The need for speed

On Sunday, the world got a glimpse of the future of retail package delivery, as envisioned by founder Jeff Bezos. Back home, the Cayman Islands Postal Service has just given us a reminder of the past.

Appearing on “60 Minutes,” Mr. Bezos showed off his company’s “octocopter” drone aircraft he says could deliver 5-pound packages to homes within a 10-mile radius.

Mr. Bezos, who purchased The Washington Post in August, said the unmanned fleet could launch within five years, pending federal regulations.

“I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not,” he said. “We can do half-hour delivery.”

While Amazon is flirting with standards now met only by the most reckless of pizza delivery drivers, Cayman’s postal service continues with its long “lead times.” To wit: In order to ensure that packages will arrive in many countries before Christmas — three weeks hence — people have to mail their packages today.

For the sake of comparison, a period of three weeks was long enough for a letter sent in 1860 from the East Coast of the U.S. to arrive in California via the legendary Pony Express.

Admittedly, Cayman’s postal service is somewhat of an easy target: Everyone who’s been here for a while has his own post office story.
What do you do when three months’ worth of disconnection notices from CUC arrive on the same day? Is it socially acceptable to attend a Christmas party if you just received the invitation for last year’s event? How did that letter meant to go across “George Town” wind up in “Georgetown” (as in Guyana, Texas or Washington, D.C.)?

For practical purposes, Cayman’s business community has adapted to the reality that if it needs an important document delivered from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time, it employs a private courier.

The private sector’s demonstrated ability to fill that niche, for a price, is good news for those entrepreneurs and a consolation to Cayman residents, but should be eyed with caution by the public postal service.

In October, the U.K.’s Royal Mail was transformed into a for-profit company through an initial public offering of a majority of ownership shares. Other countries, such as Malta and the Netherlands, have fully privatized their postal services. In Bermuda, the recent SAGE Commission report advised drastic reductions to the Bermuda Post Office.

Though the U.S. Postal Service is much-maligned, it is much faster and more reliable than its Caymanian counterpart.
Cayman’s postal service has received nearly $6 million in subsidies from Cabinet over the past five years and is budgeted to receive another $1.5 million this year.

Just as the telegraph ended the Pony Express overnight, email has pinched traditional letter carriers. Now, Amazon is exploring the use of its own small aircraft in lieu of package delivery, and nobody knows what the ramifications of other technologies such as 3-D printing will be.

The same innovations pressuring larger nations’ postal systems are relevant here as well.

But for one more year at least, people wanting to make sure their rum cakes and other gifts arrive in time for Christmas better hustle down to the post office as soon as possible.