The Postal Service's Soft Hands.

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Careful readers will know that I have long felt that the Postal Service is unfairly maligned. As I wrote eight months ago, "What can you get for 44 cents these days? You can get a fun-sized candy bar. Or 3 ounces of coffee. Or maybe one AAA battery, if it's on sale. Or, you can have someone come to your house, pick up a letter you've written, take it 3,000 miles across the country within a few days, and deliver it to your Aunt Millie's door. That's something you can get for 44 cents."

But how about the service? Well, it may not always be what we want it to be, but considering what it costs, it's pretty darn good. And here's some more evidence. Popular Mechanics decided to do a little test to see who treats packages the most gently, and here's what they came up with:

So which company treats your packages with the most tender loving care? After crunching the data and averaging the number of spikes recorded by each carrier on each trip, we found that the USPS has the gentlest touch, with a per-trip average of 0.5 acceleration spikes over 6 g's. FedEx and UPS logged an average of three and two big drops per trip, respectively...

Given those results, we were a little surprised to find that the USPS flipped over its Express Mail packages an awful lot, averaging 12.5 position changes per trip. Meanwhile, FedEx averaged seven position changes, and UPS had an average of four.

All three carriers did a good job at maintaining a stable temperature, but FedEx nabbed the top rating, with an average change of only 26.01 degrees, compared with 26.8 degrees for UPS and almost 32 degrees for the USPS. But the maximum temperatures our package experienced were within 2 degrees, and at no time did a temperature register above 80 degrees or below 47 degrees.

One disheartening result was that our package received more abuse when marked "Fragile" or "This Side Up." The carriers flipped the package more, and it registered above-average acceleration spikes during trips for which we requested careful treatment.

Not bad for the Postal Service, even more so considering that in every category, their service is dramatically cheaper than comparable service from FedEx or UPS.

-- Paul Waldman

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