But it won’t park your car

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Aside from finding a place to park and navigating the traffic, long lines are probably the biggest complaint patrons have when it comes to conducting business at the downtown post office.

While it’s still imperfect, city-driven changes in the traffic flow have helped ease the situation on the outside of the building. Now, the post office has taken steps it hopes will alleviate the indoor problem.

Last week, officials installed an Automated Postal Center (APC) in the lobby that can handle virtually any routine postal transaction, eliminating the need for some clerk interaction.

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&uot;You can do anything on this machine you can do inside except put insurance on a package, send media mail (books) or send an international package,&uot; said sales and service associate Cynthia Williams. &uot;It’s a lot faster, say if you want stamps. Everything’s a lot faster.&uot;

On Tuesday morning, Williams was perched beside the APC in the lobby at the ready to offer customers assistance with the high-tech equipment. While most people in lobby gave the APC a quizzical glance, few dared approach it while a News-Herald reporter was present.

Customer Service Supervisor Shawn O’Brien said that postal employees have been rotating on two-hour shifts stationed at the APC since it was installed last Wednesday to offer assistance. They’ve been helping about 20 people a day.

Among the services the APC provides are express mail, priority mail, first class mail, parcel post, zip code searches and stamps.

A zip code anywhere in the country can be found in a matter of seconds by simply punching in the two-letter state code and the first four letters of the name of the city.

&uot;I think it’s been a positive addition to the lobby because customers who are more interested in modern technology are apt to jump into it,&uot; O’Brien said. &uot;Older customers seem to want more interaction with a clerk, like ‘How ya doing? How are the kids?’&uot;

He noted that in Charlottesville, where there’s a large college student population, it’s gone over without a hitch because the students are used to using technology.

While people may be a little leery of using it when they are used to dealing with a human being, O’Brien noted that on Sunday, when the windows were closed, the APC’s usage was high.

And those who do give it a try are quickly hooked.

&uot;They say, &uot;I love it. I will be using this from now on,’&uot; Williams said. &uot;I’ve had people come up and say they love using it because it cuts down on the time you spend inside.&uot;

The downtown post office was selected for the APC because of its large volume of walk-in traffic. Much of that traffic is people buying money orders, one of the few things the APC cannot do.

It also won’t find you a parking space, but despite that, Williams is a firm believer.

&uot;I for one love it,&uot; she said. &uot;I just love showing people how to use it. You feel like you’ve given the customer added value.&uot;