September 6, 2023 916 PM
TERLINGUA — Last week, word spread around South Brewster County that UPS was planning to cut package delivery to the Big Bend’s most remote regions, sparking concern among locals. The cuts — which, if implemented in the region — would slash daily deliveries down to three days a week — would be a part of the company’s Rural Deferral Program, a pilot program that has been gradually rolled out since May.
In May, UPS began implementing the Rural Deferral Program in certain communities to consolidate package deliveries in hopes of making deliveries on some of the company’s longest routes more cost efficient. The Mobridge Tribune in South Dakota announced cuts in their area early in the summer; the Pistacquis Observer reported that cuts in rural Maine began on August 21.
Both areas have concerns in common with the Big Bend: the nearest box stores are hours away and basic amenities like healthcare can be hard to come by. Locals were concerned that cuts to rural service would take away resources that make living in remote communities a little easier — and cheaper.
UPS is refusing to confirm whether or not parts of the Big Bend, including South Brewster County, would be included in the program, with spokesperson Becky Biciolis explaining that “area impacted may change over time as we determine the effectiveness of the project.”
Terlingua residents, in the meantime, are left apprehensive about what the project could mean for them if rolled out in the remote region.
Among those concerned was Kathy Benjamin, a Terlingua resident who has watched the region boom in population and business over the past few years. “There are an awful lot of people who do depend on UPS just to survive out here,” she said.
Terlingua is 80 miles from all the shopping and services in Alpine, and residents in some of the further reaches of the county have a long trip just to visit the local general store. Online retailers like Amazon have become increasingly popular as a way to fill in the gaps, especially in resources like auto parts and home health supplies. “Not everyone has the luxury of being able to order something a week or two before they need it,” Benjamin said.
As Terlingua waits for the opening of a new, part-time healthcare clinic, Biciolis said that “critical” deliveries of medication would not be affected, though all other orders would need to spend an additional day in transit.
The vast majority of rural deliveries represent only a fraction of their business, she said. “This affects less than one half of one percent of our deliveries every day, so the vast majority of our customers will not experience any difference in the service they receive” she said.
UPS is the largest delivery company of its kind in the world, delivering packages to over 11 million people each business day. The company also made front page news throughout the summer, as the Teamsters Union — the union representing UPS employees — entered five-year contract negotiations.
The threat of a strike loomed from April until late July, when a contract was finally reached. The Teamsters’ win is considered one of the largest in labor union history, carving out $30 billion in wages and benefits for over 340,000 employees.
UPS spokesperson Biciolis did not draw a link between the contract negotiations and the cuts to rural service, but did say that it was part of a larger experiment. “This will help UPS and our drivers more efficiently serve our customers, which will also help ensure competitive and affordable rates for our customers, both shippers and receivers,” she said.