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No Saturday delivery?

With mail volume falling at an “unprecedented” rate and facing a cumulative $238 billion shortfall during the next 10 years, officials from the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday announced a proposed plan that could change the nature of mail service.

“The crisis we’re facing gives us an historic opportunity to make changes that will lay the foundation for a leaner, more market-responsive Postal Service that can thrive far into the future,” Postmaster General John E. Potter said in announcing the proposal.

The agency’s workforce would be cut in half during that time, Potter said, as more than 300,000 employees retire without being replaced. The remaining workforce would be more able to respond to changing demands, he added.

The new postal service would rely more on the Internet, self-service kiosks and partnerships with other retailers to allow it to continue to provide mail service; it would set prices for each of its products based on what the market would bear; and it would be in a position to introduce new products without facing the same cumbersome approval process that now governs the postal service.

And mail service could be cut to five days a week from the congressionally mandated six. Saturday delivery would most likely be eliminated.

For some people, the loss of Saturday delivery would be too much to swallow.

“I’d like to have my mail on Saturday; I really would,” said Audrey Bond, a Portsmouth resident who regularly buys stamps at the Driver Station Post Office. “For people who work during the week, they need to stay open a half day, at least.”

Stacy Norvell, who works for Access First Remodeling in North Suffolk, worried that businesses that rely on receiving payments on Saturday would suffer.

Personally, though, the 25-year-old said, the change would have little effect, since she does much of her communicating via the Internet.

Ruth Ann Morton, another Driver customer on Tuesday, considers herself a frequent postal customer, “But it really wouldn’t affect me,” she said. “I mail more things than a lot of people, but even my mother has gone to email.”

In fact, email and e-commerce have caused a large portion of the decline in mail volume, according to Fran Sansone, a district communications director for the USPS.

“We have lost a lot of volume to email and e-commerce,” she said. “But the laws that govern us have not changed in years.”

“These laws need to be modernized to reflect today’s economic and business challenges and the dramatic impact the Internet has had on American life,” the Postmaster General said in his announcement. “If given the flexibility to respond to an evolving marketplace, the Postal Service will continue to be an integral part of the fabric of American life.”

Sansone said an example of the inflexibility the Postal Service faces is the process it must go through to have its proposed business plan considered.

During the next couple of months, she explained, the Postal Regulatory Commission will consider the plan. Members will then add to it or delete from it before sending it on to the U.S. Congress, which will then decide whether to accept it or deny it.

The entire process will take several months, she said.

The Postal Service, though ultimately governed by Congress, operates without any tax dollars. As such, postal officials must find a way to balance the agency’s budget each year.