The tabs in post boxes telling people which would be the next collection are now a thing of the past. Why?
Wot no tab?
It used to be a simple matter when posting a letter to know if you had missed the collection.
A printed notice on the front of the box had a numbered list of what times the collections would take place. Above the posting slot itself, there would be a little white tab indicating the number of the next collection.
So you would know, for example, if there was a number three in the slot, that you had missed the second collection, and your letter would have to wait for the next round.
But no more. The Royal Mail phased out the tabs when it changed the notices on the front of boxes to give only the time of the last collection of the day. The new-style notices do, however, add the time and address of later collections nearby.
The new notices were introduced to make them clearer and thus, Royal Mail says, to comply with disability discrimination legislation.
Not everyone is happy. Consumer group Postwatch, which campaigns for better mail services, approves of the clarity of the new notices, but says that unless tabs are put in the slots, customers will have no way of knowing whether the last collection has actually taken place. They would thus not know if they had to go looking for the later collection point.
The group has been conducting market research into people's views over the summer, and is soon to release its results.
Peter Carr, Postwatch chairman, says: "It's clear from our own information from customers that they want to know whether the final collection has taken place or not. From this they can make a decision to use an alternative posting point."
New notices introduced to be clearer
It seems that the widespread belief that getting letters in post boxes early for quicker delivery is something of a mistaken assumption.
A spokesman for Royal Mail says that while it's good to post early, so long as letters are in the post box before the final collection, it does not make an enormous difference to delivery times.
The letter "processing centres" generally start sorting mail about 2pm, and the network which then moves the post around the country, including trains and planes, is arranged to work around that. The times of the last collections should fit in.
So how about the idea of new tabs, simply indicating if the last collection on a particular day had been made - something Postwatch describes as "an extremely simple, low technology way of assisting customers"?
In the end it all comes down to money. Royal Mail told the group that the old tabs would not work, since there would need to be specific tabs for each day of the week.
"The cost of purchasing new tabs for each day of the week for 116,000 post boxes would be a major financial commitment," a Royal Mail boss told them, adding that given the financial pressures the organisation was under, that cost could not be justified.
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OK so they don't want a tab system identifying whether a collection has been made but how do you guarantee the postman does not arrive early for the final collection of the day? The Post Office wonders why it has problems!
It's so frustrating to remember a letter and get to the post box around the same time as the last post is indicated. Does one post it and hope for the best, or dash to the next one listed? Postwatch's "last post gone" tabs would make it a simple choice.
Why not try just a single two-sided tab - one side saying "NO more collections today" and the other saying "A later collection will be made today". Another way might be to use pictures on the tab - an envelope being posted on one side to denote a collection will be made later and on the other side the same logo with a red cross through - and appropriate wording.
It should be possible to arrive at a simple but clear design for a single tab.
The old collection tabs were a wonderful system: simple and clear; but, even they could go wrong. Three weeks ago I posted my father-in-law's birthday present from the city centre of Oxford on a Saturday at 1245pm; the final collection, the third, was scheduled for 1230pm; the tab clearly read '1' indicating that the next collection would be Monday morning. The gift arrived in Rural Norfolk Monday morning. Let's not forget that we still have a rather amazingly efficient post service which is at times deserves more credit than it is given.
Luke Wright, England
I don't understand why Royal Mail can't use the old tabs back to front so they just show blank metal rather than a number. Then they could have the tab on show until the last collection has gone and then take the tab out after the last collection, putting it back in again during the first collection the following morning. Anyone wanting to use the post box can then see whether there is a tab showing or not.
J F M, UK
Don't people own watches? I accept that on occasion post might be collected early but, if it's THAT important, make sure you post it a couple of hours beforehand. Just because you're badly organised, don't blame it on the Post Office.
Wait - they phased out the tags to make things clearer for disabled people? Why? Surely the same information printed larger would work fine. People have to stop using disabled compliancy as an excuse for reducing service on a permanent basis.
Andy Smith, England
What's a post box? Do you mean outbox?
I can understand the Post Office's point of view. If they were to put a 'no more collections today' tab on the post box, they would have to revisit the box early the next day to change it. If you miss the post, tough. You should have got there earlier.
The ending of the Next Collection tabs has to be the most stupid decision ever. I'm often dashing to catch the last collection from a post box near my office but unless I happen to arrive at the same time as the van or see it disappearing into the distance I've no way of knowing whether I've been successful or not. If I've missed it I have to jump in my car and go to another post box over a mile away, in the opposite direction to my home. If it's important enough to make the effort I don't mind doing that but its crazy if I didn't need to. The old system worked fine - I think the bit about discriminatory legislation is a figleaf - it's all about shaving time of a postman's collection round! But customer service it is not.
I imagine some lesser-used post boxes will only be emptied once a day now. So a tab saying "No more collections today" will be useless, as it will always read that, which will be why Royal Mail said they'd need a tab for each day of the week. I just trust them not to empty the box before the time stated, and make sure anything I don't want to go till the next day is posted the next morning.
Mr Wright said "we still have a rather amazingly efficient post service" Do we? I wish I lived in your part of the country, I have posted letters first class going only within my own county - and they have taken four days! What does it matter which collection tab is showing if you can't even trust a first class stamp!
Angelique , Durham, UK
If the PO (re)introduced the tab system it would highlight the fact that many post boxes are emptied earlier than the time stated. But there's nothing wrong with that, we know that every box in the country cannot be emptied at exactly the same time, it's just a matter of sometimes needing to be sure.
Phil Allen, UK
My local postbox is last collection at 1715 but I've seen it being emptied at 1710. Also with the tab system we could all see if the box had not been emptied the previous advertised collection, now the Royal Mail can hide up the non-collections as there is now no proof.
I discovered the new labels this weekend when I toured all the local postboxes looking to find a postbox with the earliest collection where I could post an urgent letter. I was not amused when I discovered that all the post boxes have the new signs which only state when the last collection is and don't give any indication as to whether there are any other collections during the day. Let's have a combination of the old and the new so that postal service users have some idea as to what is going on.
Eric Scott, UK
It's made life a lot easier for us posties!
I get sick to death of people moaning about the Post Office, the changes made and the inefficiency of its services. What people don't seem to realise is that Postwatch is a tool of the government used to force Royal Mail into all of the changes it is currently going through. The whole postal service is up for review in 2006 when foreign postal services will be allowed to bid to run any part of the service. The German & Dutch post offices in particular have made it clear they intend to snap up the lucrative urban network. Let's hope then the good old British public will realise what has been done to their post office behind their backs in the name of MORE competition.
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