How does mail delivery work? KSAT Explains

The inspiration for this edition of KSAT Explains came from a viewer named Natalie, who posed several questions about the postal system’s inner workings. She wanted to know how mail travels from mailbox to destination, how it gets sorted, how illegible handwriting is deciphered, and the length of a mail carrier’s route.

Natalie submitted her inquiry through a section on our website where we invite viewers to suggest topics for Explains segments. Intrigued by her questions, we embarked on a journey to uncover the answers.

The Main USPS Processing Plant, located at 10410 Perrin Beitel Road, serves as the hub for all mail originating from or destined for the South Texas region. This vast facility processes approximately 10 million pieces of mail daily, utilizing advanced machinery capable of sorting up to 11 letters per second.

Each piece of mail undergoes meticulous sorting based on its destination, facilitated by barcodes containing relevant information. Special barcodes are also applied to ensure accuracy and consistency between the front and back of each mail piece.

For letters remaining within San Antonio, the standard delivery time is two days, while those bound for other destinations depart the processing plant the morning after arrival, ensuring timely transportation via trucks, which operate seven days a week.

Among the dedicated postal workers is Michael Oliver, who has spent 22 years driving one of the 1,001 scheduled USPS trucks. Oliver’s route covers the southeast and east sides of the region, involving daily pickups from post offices and collection boxes.

At the processing plant, mail is sorted by shape before undergoing cancellation, signifying its receipt and initiation of the delivery process. Interestingly, USPS also handles live shipments, such as bees and baby chicks, with special care.

Despite the sophistication of the sorting machinery, occasional errors or illegible addresses arise. In such cases, the system relies on directory systems to resolve discrepancies automatically, minimizing the need for human intervention.

Once processed, mail is dispatched to local post offices, where dedicated carriers like Pete Velasquez take over. Velasquez, with 26 years of experience, follows a meticulously organized routine to deliver mail to 1,500 addresses daily, starting his route between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and finishing around 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Through rain, snow, sleet, and even solar eclipses, postal carriers like Velasquez remain committed to delivering mail promptly, ensuring the efficient functioning of the postal system.

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