Wednesday, 20 August 2008

In the queue

I allowed plenty of time. I had forty minutes between arriving at the station and my appointment with the optician so I reckoned there would be no problem in strolling to the Post Office and sending a parcel to my mum and dad. It wasn't an urgent parcel - just a small holiday souvenir and a book about the tenor James Johnston. Dad heard James Johnston sing in his amateur days and only recently learnt of his subsequent fame. And at least the Post Office was still in its grand Edwardian building and not crammed into a W.H. Smith's basement. And late afternoon is usually a good time to avoid queues - at least in my local Post Office.

I'd forgotten the effect of Post Office closures. There must have been forty people in the queue when I arrived: some elderly, one on crutches, some parents with small, hot, hungry children. There were five counters open. Evidently the Post Office is economising by cutting back of staff - miserable for them and miserable for their customers.

After fifteen minutes of standing in line, I began to wonder if I should give up and go away. I looked at the resigned patience of the people ahead. Some must have been in pain from standing so long. A small child was crying in the exhausted, hungry way that made me aware of my own helplessness as a new parent. No-one spoke. We stood and waited. Behind me, the queue lengthened. I stayed.

Twenty-five minutes after I arrived, I reached the counter. I remarked on this to the woman who sold me stamps and took my parcel. "It's always like this," she said, glancing tiredly at the queue.

I did the sums. Forty people waiting twenty-five minutes. Isn't that 1,000 minutes in total? That's 16 hours and 40 minute of people's time lost in queuing every during the twenty-five minutes I stood in line. How much is lost in a day? in a week? How many people with disabilities suffer pain? How many working people lose time they need? How many parents and children endure the discomfort of the queue?

And what will it be like at a busy time? I wonder how early I can post for Christmas.


KateJ said...

In the nearest sizeable town to me,two out of the three POs were to be closed, while the remaining one - in the town centre - is already as busy as the one you describe. When the people living on the outlying estates have a bus ride or a lengthy walk and then have to wait, it's just misery all round. Working people spending most of their lunch break in the queue... tired pensioners and stressed out mums... luckily one of the two has now won a reprieve, probably temporary.
My village PO is shortly to close, to be replaced, maybe, with a very part-time mobile unit. But instead of all the local POs linking up for a proper campaign, they're all just saying "oh no, don't close our office, close this other one instead".
Our local cottage hospitals recently formed a united "Keep small hospitals open" campaign and have made significant gains, while the POs each seem to be fighting their own corner. Doomed to failure.

Kathz said...

I've just done the sum and I think that if, as the cashier said, the time I stood in like is representative, the Post Office I visited is losing 320 hours of its customers' time per 8-hour day. And that's all in the name of efficiency. Whose efficiency? I wonder. It's plainly bad for people's health, their attitude to work, for small businesses, etc. And all this impacts on the community and the country as a whole.

I remember when it was possible to take pride in the Post Office as a public service - and one in which Britain led the world. Now it's being run by the same doctrinaire madness that looks for privatisation at the expense of efficiency and control coupled with an insistence on short-term economic gains. The only people who gain are, I suspect, shareholders making lucky gambles on the stock exchange by investing in private delivery companies.