I-Team: Snail mail getting slower?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The I-Team is tracking slow and unreliable mail service and putting the U.S. Postal Service to the test. There's now new evidence that the problem is growing. ABC7 Consumer Investigative Reporter Jason Knowles got an inside look at the local postal nerve center and what's being done to speed things up.

In an age of technology and e-mail, the U.S. Postal Service is sometimes referred to as "snail mail." But for some people, the snail is slower than ever. There are cases where residents can't get medicine and small businesses are losing money. The I-Team uncovered what may be causing the problem, and what managers at the post office are now promising.

"I am so fed up with it," said Dionne Penman, USPS customer.

Penman says life-saving medicines for her parents have been delayed by weeks. She also showed us e-mails backing up claims that some of her paychecks have been "returned to sender." She says her complaints to the post office went unanswered until the I-Team became involved.

"The money I depend on from the research places and my bakery business pays for the bills in the house and we can't pay the bills," said Penman.

The Penmans showed us name labels on the mailbox and a clearly marked address on their South Side residence. Neighbors say they've had similar issues.

"Some people called me up, 'Did you quit?' I said no," said Amelia Allen, Avon sales rep.

Award-winning Avon saleswoman Amelia Allen says in recent months, several shipments of her catalogs went missing or were delivered several weeks late. Allen supplied the I-Team with ongoing correspondence with a postal official.

"You get disgusted with it after a while," said Allen.

The I-Team did our own unscientific test by sending two sets of letters to the same four local addresses -- one batch from Chicago, another batch from San Francisco to Chicago. The post office says local letters should take about a day, and about three days from San Francisco.

Most were on time, but one resident says she waited 10 days to get both letters. Another told the I-Team it took almost a week for her to receive the San Francisco letter.

And we got a call form a resident in Naperville, saying that a "priority mail" three-day service, with a rent check inside, took almost 2 weeks.

"No definite answer as to where the package was," said Eric Goudy, Sr., USPS customer.

ABC7's Jason Knowles asks: "Can they count on the mail?"

"They can always count on the mail. There is going to be some hiccups here and there but we are here to stay," said Ed Moore, USPS manager of communications.

Moore partially blamed delivery issues on the brutal winter and said there's been a high number of retirements. Almost 1,000 people were recently hired in the Chicago area, but some left.

"They thought it was an easy job to do and they found out, hey, this is not for me," said Moore.

In Carol Stream, a 200,000 square foot sorting center with new technology became the global portal to Chicago about two years ago as part of a restructuring process. However, the Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., which monitors the USPS, says a recent study showed the majority of delivery is "below target."

"The problem seems to be growing is more and more mail that is not being delivered or being delivered late or being delivered next store instead of your home," said Ruth Goldway, chairman, United States Postal Regulatory Commission.

Most postal complaints go directly to the U.S. Postal Service, but they don't make those numbers public.

But the PRC logged 3,600 complaints last year nationwide, and so far in 2014, the numbers is already at 5,300. The agency also says the "Chicago area has consistently been one of the lower achievement areas in the country."

"This has gone on for many years," said Goldway.

Chicago's Postmaster Anthony Vaughan has attended community forums addressing the issue but didn't take part in the I-Team's interview.

"Why isn't he here now? Anthony Vaughan is out of the office right now," said Moore.

Since Vaughan took over the position in November, he's also implemented a new local hotline for complaints and he's required carriers to start and end shifts earlier, after reports of some mail being delivered as late as 8 or 9 at night.

If you have a complaint about mail service, you can visit the USPS online or call Chicago's new regional hotline at 1-866-311-1618.

You can also contact the Postal Regulatory Commission and file a complaint.

The post office also says it has addressed the concerns of all of the customers who were featured in this report.

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