Long lines at Yale Station

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Oct. 1, 1900 was a momentous day for the Yale community.

The first day of fall term that year, it marked the grand opening of the Yale Post Office Sub-Station, which occupied a basement corridor in the now-extinct North College dormitory. It also marked the beginning of a long and impatient relationship between students and the U.S. Postal Service.

Students wait at Yale Station’s Parcel Call Window, yellow slips in hand, to pick up packages. Line lengths vary.
Jeanne Snow
Students wait at Yale Station’s Parcel Call Window, yellow slips in hand, to pick up packages. Line lengths vary.

With 500 state-of-the-art lockboxes, the office was hailed in the New York Times as an exciting “innovation” over Yale’s “old-time institution,” in which the college postman would hand-deliver letters to rooms. By its 15th anniversary, the station’s business had increased 500 percent. By its 68th, it was so “perpetually overloaded and overcrowded,” as the News reported in November 1968, that Yale considered a proposal to eliminate all post-office boxes and make large, unsorted deliveries to different areas of campus instead.

But the Yale’s post office survived, of course. Today’s outpost of the U.S. Postal Service, now called Yale Station, occupies the basement of Lanman-Wright Hall on Old Campus — and has metal, not wooden lockboxes. But some things never change: The office still suffers everyday from both overloading and overcrowding, especially at the beginning of every academic year and around the holidays.

Students stopping by Yale Station on their way back to their rooms after morning classes often find long lines, stretching from the main counter, up the stairs, to the entrance. The parcel line can start from the other corner of the basement and goes to the main counter line up. The post office, which is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, typically swells with customers between class hours and before closing.

There are usually two employees at each area, with others sorting mail in the back room. Although they are helpful and professional, students interviewed said, the postal workers are certainly not motivated by a sense of urgency — a longtime trend, if a 1978 News story is any indication. “Quite efficient — a letter from Hartford will never take more than three weeks to get to you,” the writer quipped in a June freshman issue.

“The only time I haven’t seen a long line in there is, like, 8 a.m. on a Friday morning,” Jonathan Koch ’12 said.

But postal service representatives defended the wait times at Yale Station. In a 2006 “mystery shopper” evaluation study performed by Maritz Research, a marketing research firm based in Missouri, six out of eight wait times at Yale Station were less than five minutes, said Maureen Marion, the spokeswoman for the Connecticut district of the U.S. Postal Service.

The average wait time was only three minutes and 26 seconds, according to the firm’s report.

Koch, for his part, said lines were particularly long at the beginning of this semester, when students were receiving packages for moving in to their rooms and ordering textbooks for classes.

He said he remembered a time standing in a queue with five other students at the beginning of the year, one of whom asked if she could check for her package in the back. The postal worker at the parcel window shrugged, saying there were six bins full of packages waiting to be sorted through.

“They just seemed frustrated,” Koch said. “They had so much stuff to sort through, so they weren’t very appreciative of people coming to check on packages.”

The supervisor of Yale Station, who asked not to be identified for this story because she is not allowed to speak to the press, acknowledged that the post office’s total eight workers could be overwhelmed, but said backlogs are usually limited to certain times of the year.

“Pretty much when the students come and go it’ll be busy, as a general rule, for the post office,” she said. Around Christmas and April 15, when customers are mailing in their income tax returns, she added, the volume of traffic increases as well.

Part of the problem may be that the Post Service no longer operates an office downtown on Orange Street, causing more New Haven residents to come to Yale Station for the counter service, the supervisor said. When the Orange Street office closed down last year, local community members flooded the campus post office, causing long delays. The other closest post offices, located in Trolley Square, Washington Avenue and Brewery Street, are almost a mile away.

So why doesn’t Yale Station hire more employees, lightening the workload on each employee and shrinking lines?

The supervisor said her office has “nothing to do with hiring,” since hiring decisions are centralized at Postal Service headquarters in North Carolina. However, she added, they may try to hire more workers for the busy holiday season.

Besides, more manpower may not be needed most of the time anyway. Two other students interviewed said they usually did not have to wait in long lines at Yale Station, depending on what time they went there.

Meaghan Watters ’12 said she never had much of a problem with long lines. She said she receives packages about once a week and usually checks her mail every weekday around 1 or 2 p.m. But after brunch on Saturdays, the lines are consistently much longer, she said.

“It depends what time you go,” agreed Ginger Jiang ’12. “I walk through and there are long lines, but I’ve never actually had to stand in one.”

Still, the postal workers are doing the best they can, the supervisor said.

“We try to move personnel where they’re needed to ensure that everybody’s not waiting,” she said. “That’s a prime target for us, that people don’t wait. And we try to do our best to alleviate that.”

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