A mobile post office is a mail sorting and handling facility on wheels or wings. In some cases, boats can house mobile post offices as well. Sorting mail on the move allows mail handlers to speed the process of mail delivery to better meet the needs of customers. In addition, mobility can be useful for setting up temporary mail stations for events or in the wake of natural disasters where the main post office may not be operational due to damage, inaccessibility, or an employee shortage.
Mobile post offices date to the 1800s, when a number of nations began using specially equipped train cars. In addition to collecting mail from towns along the tracks, the personnel in the mobile post office would also sort it, setting up bags for delivery to towns on the route and exchanging bags with mobile post offices moving in the opposite direction. This service expanded to trucks, boats, and aircraft over time with the growth of the postal service.
Mobile mail handling cuts down significantly on delivery time. Rather than taking mail to a central sorting facility, postal personnel can deliver at least some mail in transit. This reduces the load at central facilities as well, allowing them to focus on long distance mail services. Customers timing their mail dropoffs well could deliver mail to a mobile post office in the morning and rest assured that the recipient would get it in the afternoon, especially in the case of mail traveling within a town or city.
Many nations have made a decision to phase out routine mobile mail handling for a variety of reasons ranging from mail volume to security concerns. There are a few exceptions. In highly rural areas, a mobile post office can be an efficient solution for delivering local mail, as otherwise the mail might spend days in transit to a central facility and then back out to the region. Likewise, sometimes the postal service will set up a temporary post office at a big event like the Olympics to handle a large volume of mail from participants and attendees.
After natural disasters, a mobile post office can help get mail service running quickly again. It may take weeks or months to restore damaged postal facilities and train new personnel, while a mobile post office is ready immediately. It can travel throughout regions with inadequate mail service to deliver mail and news, as well as collecting mail for other regions. Some also offer phone services, allowing people to make contact with friends and family who may be otherwise inaccessible.