Why is Finding a Post Box so Hard?

Sometimes it is the small things that show how government just gets it all so wrong.

Last Thursday The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac has a little bit on the US Post Office and its declining fortunes as people move away from mail. There is no doubt that the post offices days are numbered, but that doesn’t mean the decline has to be as steep as it is. Besides there are things they could be doing to make life a little easier to use them (and god knows they should be doing anything they can, to be more appealing).

Take, for example, the humble post office box. They can be frustratingly hard to locate. Consider Broadway and Cambie – one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver – and yet there is no post box at the intersection. (I eventually found it one block east on broadway) but I carried around a letter for 3 weeks before I eventually found one.

In short why is there not digital map (or for techies, and API) for post box locations? I could imagine all sorts of people that might make use of it. Would it be nice to just find out – where is the closest post box to where I’m standing? More importantly, it might actually help the post office attract a few extra customers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt customer service. I’ve wondered for a couple of years why it doesn’t publish this data set.

Turns out I’m not the only with this frustration. My friend Steven Tannock has channeled his frustration into a simple app called Wherepost.ca. It’s a simple website – optimized for mobile phone use – that allows users to add post boxes as well as find the one nearest to them. In short, Steven’s trying to create a public data set of post box locations by crowd sourcing the problem. If Canada Post won’t be helpful… we’ll help one another.

Launched on Thursday with 20 post office box locations, there are now over 400 boxes mapped (mostly in the Vancouver area) with several dozen users contributing. In addition, Steven tells me users in at least 2 other countries have asked for new icons so they can add post boxes where they live. It seems Canadians aren’t the only ones frustrated about not knowing where the nearest post box is.

The ideal, of course, would be for Canada Post to publish an API of all post box locations. I suspect however, that they either don’t actually know where they all are in a digital form (at which point they should really help Steven as he is doing them a huge service) or revealing their location will be seeing as sacrificing some important IP that people should pay for. Remember, this is an organization that refuses to make Postal Code data open, a critical data set for companies, non-profits and governments.

This isn’t the worlds fanciest app but its simplicity is what makes it so great, and so useful. Check it out at WherePost.ca and… of course, add a post box if you see one.



9 thoughts on “Why is Finding a Post Box so Hard?

  1. Bill Lee

    Dreadful.  Many faults with Post Office locations, some of which have not been there for decades.  Must be using an old list.
    475 Macdonald has been condos for some time.
    Address: 1901 HASTINGS E, Vancouver, Name: Vancouver Sub 15was demolished over a decade ago (Phil’s Pharmacy)And I wish that plotters would take more care when placing the mail boxes to the right side of the street and proportionately along.Maybe the Post Office will help with this, otherwise it will become another half fulfilled ghost page yet again.

    1. David Eaves

      Well Bill, what is great is that your unhappy comments have made the site better. I’ve let Steve know that 1901 Hastings st is no longer there. There is however, no such address as 475 Macdonald St. in Vancouver. A word of advice: if you are going to crap on someone’s fun project – especially because you don’t think they are being accurate – please be sure that you are accurate yourself.

      1. David Eaves

        New update. Apparently the post office data is in Googles Places API which draws the data from… Yellow Pages! That yellow pages is publishing Post Office address data that is over a decade out of date – well that is plain awesome and speaks volumes about the company. Fortunately Google allows users to state where there are errors in the data and then corrects them, so we can make both wherepost.ca and google maps more accurate.

        1. Stv.

          So it turns out that once a place has been “moderated” by Google (that is, accepted into their DB), we can no longer delete it. But! I can easily filter out IDs & we can add new locations. So i’m thinking I might re-add the “add a post office” functionality (which will also submit that new post office to Google Places), as well as “report bad post office” link, which will add the places ID to a “bad place” db. We can then filter our places results to ignore those ones.

          @c589a0ebf361f892c7ac45ecb7597621:disqus your comment here also made realize I was remiss in not having *any* sort of feedback mechanism on wherepost.ca, so I’ve added in a disqus comment thread there too, on the about page.

    2. Stv.

      I’ve toyed with requiring a minimum zoom level when adding a box, to help with the accuracy factor – particularly on mobile, large thumbs can equal a several-meter inaccuracy factor. It’s partially why there’s a notes field, so people can say “outside the so-and-so store” to help locate it.

      if a box isn’t where someone says it is, you can also report that – I tally “bad boxes”. Hopefully someday I can score contributors on how well they place their boxes.

      1. mon7que

        Ooops only problem with this is that someone might click ‘report missing box’ accidentally/ out of curiosity like I did.
        So in Edmonton Ab the one that is stated this as a note: “On Princess Elizabeth going NE past 103 ST, best access on side road” isn’t actually missing.
        I clicked it wondering if it showed a tally or something.

        Thanks for coming up with this app though… good idea :)

  2. Pingback: WherePost: now even more useful! | Tannock.net

  3. kumquat

    Not surprisingly I was told by Canada Post via website chat that the closest red box to me was 5km away LOL and yet I know there is one that is about 5 streets over. I called to ask if there was one closer, and they gave me another location that was even farther away. It’s quite sad that we are in 2019 and this doesn’t yet exist. They know where the red boxes are to pick up the mail, so I’m sure they have a database.


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