Why are delivery times for post to Vancouver so unreliable?
September 14, 2012 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Why is post from Europe to Vancouver, BC so extremely unreliable in terms of delivery time?

I've lived in Vancouver for five years and I've noticed this issue getting worse: air mail from Europe (usually Ireland, Britain, and Scotland) can take anything from 4 days to 5 weeks to get here. The post is pretty much being posted in the same places time after time, so I am assuming the issues are at this end, especially as the issues are with post coming from more than one country. I'm just curious as to why there would be such enormous variations in delivery time in similar items (letters and cards) being delivered to a metropolitan area like Vancouver. Is this a Vancouver thing or a Canada wide issue?

(While rants about Canada Post are welcome, I'd really just love to know specifically why delivery times fluctuate so much. )
posted by lesbiassparrow to Grab Bag (4 answers total)
Best answer: I handle mail on the Canadian side of things, and while I can easily see a regular letter taking a solid couple of weeks from the UK to the west coast (although it shouldn't), 5 weeks seems a bit much. I think the service is sold as 10 days from Canada to Europe. Not sure what the time estimate is on the European end of things, but the post within some (eastern?) European countries can be very unreliable. Royal Mail would handle two of the countries you listed and it has just been through some restructuring of their work methods, to make things more "efficient" (as has Canada Post) so theoretically really there is no reason for lettermail to take that long. However, in reality these changes are not necessarily more efficient nor are they necessarily being implemented in an ideal way (think bad systems that are chronically understaffed).

Parcels and small packets are another thing all together as they have to go through customs and once they get involved, it can can hold up mail if they are backlogged. We sometimes see customs holding things at the border for a week or more, and then the mail still has to travel within the country, which takes time.

Regular mail (ie not express) can take a while in some cases as it is actually driven in trucks across the country. From the UK it probably flies into Toronto and then goes on a truck across to Vancouver. I have a feeling that "air mail" on a letter just means it goes on the plane from the UK to Toronto, and it isn't a special faster service once in Canada. If it was a parcel or a small packet it might fly from Toronto to Vancouver, but I'm guessing your letters are going the land route.

I have handled items of mail (both lettermail and parcels) that have been in the mail system for two months, sometimes more, but it is unusual - unless it's a return to sender from a different country, in which case I have seen something take 6 months (to make it to the middle east, be refused and sent back). My general rule to people waiting for stuff (usually non express parcels) from outside of Canada is to wait 6 weeks before you get worried.
posted by smartypantz at 1:51 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the detailed breakdown and explanation. I'm still curious though why one letter will take 5 days (the shortest time) and another - posted a week later from the same place - takes 5 weeks. This isn't a one time only event either, but the extremes of delivery seem to have gotten more extreme over the past while.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2012

Canada Post can be really slow for no apparent reason. I once mailed a postcard from Mississauga to Toronto that took three business days to arrive (Thursday to Tuesday). According to Google, it's a nine-hour walk from where I mailed it to where it was delivered. (I'm currently waiting for a parcel from overseas that has been in Mississauga since Thursday.)

I have noticed that mail from the U.S. to Canada tends to take a lot longer than mail from Canada to the U.S. I routinely get student loan bills (from the U.S.) that it would be too late to pay if I hadn't already paid them online, and every single birthday card I got this year arrived after my birthday, but most mail in the other direction is about two days faster, so I think that once it leaves Canada, it's fine.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2012

Best answer: Do the letters that take longer have any markings on them when they arrive? That may give you a clue as to what adventures it has been through. One place to check is the back - there should be a bar code printed on the back in light orange ink with a date and a letter that will tell you when and where it has been through a high speed mail sorting machine. If there is no marking then perhaps it has been manually sorted instead (this taking longer). If there are multiple markings it has been through a machine more than once (which can delay it's journey). Sometimes you will also see writing or notes that will indicate the letter ended up in the wrong place and had to be redirected.

Also something to consider is the staffing on your particular mail route. Do you have a regular carrier or does it change often? Understaffing (or not filling vacancies or absences and staffing with temps) and over assessed routes (ie routes assigned more points of call then it's possible to get to in a shift) means that sometimes mail can sit in the depot for many days longer than it should.

Honestly sometimes I'm amazed that we don't loose more mail. The machines can sometimes "eat" mail if it's not the perfect size and weight, and we will find mail in mail bags or other containters that we need to check by hand before they are reused. Sometimes the checking of the bags (or other equipment) isn't a priority if the actual mail moving work areas are understaffed.
posted by smartypantz at 12:07 AM on September 18, 2012

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