Thousands of rural mailboxes in county to get safety checks

Canada Post is reviewing 843,000 rural mail­boxes to ensure they meet safe­ty regulations – including thousands on Wellington Coun­ty rural routes.

“It’s the most ambitious pro­ject Canada Post has under­taken in some time, Mario Circelli told county councillors on April 24.

Circelli said safety legisla­tion came about as a result of the Westray Mining disaster. Westray was a coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, and was the site of a methane ex­plosion in 1992 that killed 26 miners. In 2003, the federal gov­ernment passed a law that put the onus of safety on the em­ployer.

Circelli said it is not the condition of rural mailboxes, but their location that has prompted employees to lodge over 1,700 complaints, and there have been “40 rulings against us.”

He added there have been over 70 collisions involving rural mail carriers, “and unfortunately, three deaths.”

Circelli said Canada Post has taken the position “We’re not only legally obligated, but morally obligated” to check rural mailboxes for safety. He said a company has developed a traffic safety association tool that provides analysis of rural mailboxes.

He added the most mail­boxes in Canada are located in Ontario. In Wellington County, the boxes to be checked in­clude:

– 510 for Ariss RR1 and 2;

– 395 for Harriston RR1, 2, 3, and 4;

– 1,159 for Mount Forest RR1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6;

– 325 for Kenilworth RR2 and 4;

– 314 for Erin RR2;

– 556 for Elora, RR1 and 2;

– 645, for Arthur RR1, 2, 3, and 4; and

– 1,016 for Rockwood RR1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Circelli said the for­mula for safety evaluation in­cludes speed limits, centre line markings, and traffic.

“There is science behind it,” he said.

His report to council stated, “While the first priority for our investigating teams is safety, we also place a high priority on maintaining delivery to the cus­tomer’s mailbox. When a mail­box fails a safety assessment, the investigating team looks for another location nearby where the box can be placed and the rural mail carrier can continue delivery to that mailbox.

“Only when it is not pos­sible to find a site that fits the safety criteria will we offer customers other options, which include receiving mail in a community mailbox located near their homes, or choosing a post office box in a local post office, at no cost to the cus­tomer.”

He added, “Please be as­sur­ed that Canada Post is com­mitted to rural mail delivery.”

He said that in the media, Canada Post has been “ham­mered” for its program because it is seen as a cost cutting mea­sure, and Canada Post has also been accused of eliminating rural mail delivery.

He said to date in Ontario, 80% of the mailboxes evaluated have been approved for safety. He explained there are three possibilities, and the owners will be informed of the evalu­ation before it happens:

– the mailbox passes the safety test and nothing further happens;

– there is a problem, and Canada Post helps the owner find a new location for it on the property, such as moving it back from the road several feet, or moving it from its current location by 40 to 50 feet; or

– the safety test is failed, and there is no safe place, and as a last resort, the owner has to use a community mailbox or a post office box.

Circelli said if that happens, Canada Post will assume all costs for change of address for six months. He added that if a group of boxes in an area fails, that area would receive a com­munity mailbox.

Circelli, who worked in media for many years before being hired by Canada Post, said the corporation officers have “learned our lessons,” about mailbox problems, and a mailbox that seems safe in August might not be safe in January, or perhaps the muni­cipality dumps snow on the site.

He warned councillors “You will get calls,” and said Canada Post tries to call each property owner three times for noti­fication, and is “batting 90%” as a successful contact rate.

When Circelli considered ques­tions, councillor Mark MacKenzie said there are some small subdivisions in Minto that would like a community mailbox. He also said some of the accidents Canada Post is dealing with were the fault of the employees.

But Circelli said Canada Post employs 70,000 people, and “the onus is on us.” He added that he has heard from “many road superintendents who say, ‘Get rid of all mail­boxes. Plows hit them, and so do kids with bats.’ Our mandate is to keep rural mail delivery.”

Councillor Carl Hall said he hopes Canada Post is not ex­pecting townships to pick up costs for community mail­box­es.

Circelli said that is not the plan, but when Canada Post offers a landowner an alternate location for a mailbox, it is up to the landowner to do the moving – at his own cost. He said when it comes to private property (owned by the town­ship) there will be talks before mailboxes are moved or com­munity mailboxes are set up.

He added landowners should not install any mail­boxes without first talking to their local government, in parti­cular to avoid hitting local drains. He said Canada Post has the usual attitude of “Call before you dig.”

He added, “Canada Post will give each and every Cana­dian one free mode of deliv­ery.”

Warden John Green said he sees some progress with Can­ada Post’s approach, but the last time such evaluations were done, people got three days of notice.

Councillor Brad Whit­combe agreed, and said he hop­es Canada Post has learned its lesson. It said MPs should be notified, since mail is a federal service.

Cercelli said he told local MPs before he came to county council, and agreed with Whitcombe’s suggestion to work with local media to keep people informed. But, he said, there are “only two of us for Ontario and parts of Quebec.” He added he has to keep the postal unions informed, as well as customers.

Councillor Rod Finnie won­dered if the evaluations will be a one-time event.

Circelli said the study will “take a number of years.”

Finnie pointed out, “Roads change.”

Circelli said the safety pro­cess is “driven by carriers, and by their complaints. Carriers can lodge complaints.”

Canada Post has also had to deal with customer complaints, something Circelli acknow­ledged. When Canada Post did evaluations in Puslinch and Guelph-Eramosa Townships a few years ago, people were furious at the lack of notice, and the peremptory manner in which Canada Post acted, often shifting residents to community mailboxes, and telling them about it after the fact.

Cercelli admitted, “We’ve been whacked when we initiat­ed this project.”

And Delivery safety Officer Dale Wells told county council, “Yes, Puslinch was a learning experience for us.”