July 12, 2001 11:00 pm

Anyone who was worried about the Postal Service ending Saturday mail delivery can breathe a little easier.

The postal Board of Governors decided Tuesday that moving to a five-day delivery schedule was being dropped from consideration. Good thing, since reducing rather than streamlining services would only further alienate a customer base that more and more is finding alternatives to mail delivery.

As much as we might not have liked the concept of five-day rather than six-day service, most of us probably could have adapted to such a change. But the postal board decided the public outcry would not be worth the money saved in its effort to reduce losses that could hit $2 billion this fiscal year.

The proposal had drawn criticism since the service announced this spring it was considering eliminating six-day delivery along with consolidating services, raising rates, reducing the number of postal workers and improving technology. Only the elimination of Saturday service, however, drew outrage. At the very least, the proposal focused attention on the Postal Services situation and the need to allow more flexibility in the rules under which it operates. An independent but still government-regulated Postal Service cant be hamstrung by rules that are as old as the service itself.

As we said this spring when the five-day delivery concept was laid on the table, Americans have come to take the Postal Service for granted. As much as we get frustrated with the Postal Service, receiving mail six days a week is something we expect. Its a daily ritual, even though most of what we receive nowadays is bills and junk and mostly junk at that.

As much as most of us still appreciate hand-written letters, technology has changed the way we communicate. And the changes will continue. The Postal Service will have to adapt. E-mail communications and paying bills online or through other forms of electronic or automatic payments surely has taken a bite out of first-class mail that pays the freight for much of the junk that gets a discount.

The Postal Service will have to direct more attention to finding ways to entice first-class mailers back to its system, and to make sure the direct mailers whose messages are clearly more effective in consumers hands than on computer screens pay the costs associated with the services they are receiving.

Stopping mail delivery on Saturdays wouldnt have been a smart move. Further slowing of mail delivery would have resulted in the Postal Service being forced to play catch-up more than it already is.

Even a penny here and a penny there is more salable than a reduction in service.