• on Aug 27th, 2012 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 18 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service owns more than 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Many of these vehicles are reaching the end of their operational lives, prompting the Postal Service to wrestle with how best to address its long-term vehicle needs. A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that the organization’s current financial situation poses a significant barrier to vehicle replacement or refurbishment. Attention has primarily been given to the Postal Service’s delivery fleet of left-hand drive trucks and minivans, which make up almost 85 percent of its entire fleet. However, the Postal Service also operates a large fleet of tractor trailers to haul mail from one processing facility to another or to stations and branches. Many of these trucks have exceeded their usage expectancy. The Postal Service has about 1,800 tractors and almost 3,900 trailers. The trailers come in various sizes to accommodate different-sized docks and to navigate various locations. Some locations, such as New York City, cannot accommodate the larger 53-foot trailers. It would cost roughly $135,000 to replace each tractor and another $45,000 to replace a standard-sized trailer. Trailer specifications are unique to the Postal Service, making “off the shelf” purchases impossible. In addition, the Postal Service needs to refurbish the tractors to meet the emissions standards in each state. These standards and the deadlines for achieving them vary by state. The cost to retrofit the existing fleet would vary depending on the standards needing to be met. With its current cash crunch, the Postal Service lacks the capital to invest immediately in upgrading its fleet. Yet an overhaul of the fleet of some kind is needed. Are there alternatives to replacing the fleet of tractor trailers? Could the Postal Service hire contractors to perform the work now done by its own fleet? Contracting out is the most common way the Postal Service acquires transportation. The Postal Service already contracts with 15,000 highway contract route (HCR) suppliers to cover more than 1.2 billion miles of mostly long-haul mail transportation. Or is contracting out not feasible given the Postal Service’s unique and varied needs for its tractor trailer fleet? Should the Postal Service lease new trailers and have Postal Service Vehicle drivers perform the work? Or, could the Postal Service consider new financing arrangements, such as taking a bank loan like a private transport company does, which would allow it to purchase trailers over time? Or does replacing the fleet all at once through a competitive bidding process provide the Postal Service with the strongest purchasing power? If so, how should the Postal Service pay for this replacement?
  • on Aug 13th, 2012 in Products & Services | 29 comments
    More than 40 million Americans change their address each year, which means the U.S. Postal Service forwards an awful lot of mail. In fiscal year 2010, it forwarded 1.2 billion pieces. Under the Postal Service’s regulations, customers who fill out a change of address form have their mail forwarded to their new address for 12 months after the move. Mail forwarding costs the Postal Service almost $300 million a year. The cost to return mail to sender is another $800 million. The cost of mail forwarding – and returning to sender and treating as waste -- is baked into the overall First Class Mail rates, so all customers effectively pay for this service whether they use it or not. Canada Post has taken a different approach to mail forwarding, charging recipients either an annual or semi-annual fee when they move. Residential customers pay $75 for 12 months of forwarding and business customers pay $235. These prices increase slightly if the person or business moves to another province. The Canada Post model extricates the costs from the overall First Class Mail rate and is structured so recipients pay for the service, but only if they use it. Some U.S. business customers have requested that the Postal Service explore new pricing and product options to reduce the costs of forwarding and returning mail to sender. Would a model similar to the Canada Post one work in the U.S. or would residential recipients, in particular, feel like they were being charged for a service they thought was free? Should the sender pay for forwarding instead of the recipients? What would happen if recipients or senders decided against paying for forwarding? Would total costs merely go up since return to sender mail costs more than twice as much as forwarding per piece? Are there other alternatives? Share your thoughts below.
  • on Aug 6th, 2012 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 10 comments
    The Postal Service has built a strong brand name around service, trust, and security. Few other organizations can lay claim to such a strong brand, one with more than 200 years of history and cultivated by the Postal Service’s consistent fulfillment of its mission to securely deliver mail to every American, regardless of location, at a reasonable price. For 6 straight years, the Ponemon Institute has named the Postal Service the most trusted government agency and one of the top 10 most trusted businesses in the nation. Many postal observers have encouraged the Postal Service to leverage this “trusted brand” to expand its offerings in the digital market. But a steady drumbeat of bad news over the past few years around its financial situation, potential cuts in service, and uncertainty over its retail and network downsizing plans has unsettled stakeholders. The question many of them ask is whether the ongoing negative news coverage could be hurting the overall brand. Even the PMG noted earlier this year that the mailing industry is experiencing a “crisis in confidence.” Lingering uncertainty about the Postal Service’s future could further erode confidence. Further, competitors can use the turmoil to their advantage, touting their own services as easy and reliable in the face of uncertainty. What do you think? Have the ongoing news reports about the Postal Service’s finances and uncertain future affected your view of the organization? Do you think these reports hurt the Postal Service brand? Or is the Postal Service doing the best it can under the circumstances?

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