• on Jan 27th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 3 comments

    It’s back to the future for the requirement that all letter and flat automation mailings be Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) compliant to obtain discounts. Mailers were expecting implementation this week of the Full-Service requirement, but the U.S. Postal Service pushed back the date until 2015 because the Postal Regulatory Commission ruled that the mandate constituted a price increase that would have busted the inflation-based price cap.

    Many mailers welcomed the delay, as few felt the entire industry – the Postal Service included – was ready for full-service, which included the requirement that barcodes keep their unique sequence of numbers for at least 45 days before the barcode sequence is used again. A number of large mailers have been Full-Service IMb compliant for months and have taken advantage of the benefits of IMbs, including tracking of service performance, identifying bottlenecks, and coordinating follow-up marketing efforts. But many mid-sized and smaller mailers were not ready for the added requirements, which include electronic submission of postage statements and use of unique IMbs on trays and containers. And concerns were growing that the Postal Service’s systems are not yet capable of handling the expected increase in IMb data.

    The Office of Inspector General raised similar concerns in a fall audit report. In particular, we found the Postal Service had fallen short in developing a comprehensive plan for the continued development and use of IMb data. Notably, the Postal Service’s plans around the use of IMb data have grown considerably since its original vision of the program and it has not taken into account the needs of all mailers. The Postal Service needs to upgrade its data storage capabilities and data systems to accommodate the growing use of IMbs and to support stakeholders’ needs.

    The silver lining in this delay could be that it gives the Postal Service another year to develop a comprehensive IMb data plan that includes detailed input from all business users and identifies costs and milestones for the life of the IMb program. It also gives mailers more time to get ready, while letting those already in the Full-Service IMb program keep their modest discounts.

    • Share your thoughts on the Full-Service IMb and the delayed implementation date.
    • Do you think another year will make a difference in the readiness of mailers? Of the Postal Service’s systems?
    • What incentives would you like to see to encourage smaller mailers to make the conversion to Full-Service IMb?
    • If you are already Full-Service compliant, what value do you get from the program? 
  • on Aug 19th, 2013 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 10 comments

    Alternative fueled vehicles are gaining renewed interest with the abundance of cheap, domestic natural gas. Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles took off in the 1990s as infrastructure development surged. Service stations then declined for a decade but are now resurging. Liquefied natural gas and ethanol are other options, as is a new clean fuel called GDiesel, a combination of conventional diesel and natural gas that can be used on conventional diesel engines without modifications.

    With so many attractive options and an aging delivery fleet in need of an upgrade, the time seems ripe for the U.S. Postal Service to convert or retrofit its fleet. But a quick overhaul remains problematic given a significant hurdle: the Postal Service lacks capital to make a major investment. Another question is where the Postal Service should place its bets. Should it convert to an electric fleet or go with CNG or are the emerging hybrid technologies the way to go? Should it put all its eggs in one basket or should it convert parts of the fleet to different fuels? How does the Postal Service remain flexible enough to adapt to the best technology knowing that rapid innovation in the alternative fuel sector means the next best thing could be right around the corner?

    The Postal Service has set a target of increasing alternative fuel use in postal vehicles by 10 percent annually through 2015. It also has goals for reducing postal-vehicle petroleum use and contract transportation petroleum use by 20 percent annually in that time. In its 2012 Sustainability Report, the Postal Service notes that it continues to take proactive steps to increase the use of alternative fuels. It is testing many types of alternative fuels, including fuel cell vehicle, electric long-life vehicles, and new hybrid technologies. “Providing affordable delivery service requires our use of alternate fuels that are conveniently available and competitively priced,” the Postal Service said in the report.

    Converting or retrofitting the fleet to an alternative fuel has to make sense financially and logistically based on how the Postal Service operates. Lower fuel costs make the financial benefits of alternative fuels easier to justify. Their environmental benefits are well documented. But logistics remain an issue. If refueling stations are not conveniently or strategically located, the Postal Service has to travel further from its routes. This can affect service and costs.

    Share your thoughts on the best strategy for an alternative fuel fleet. Should the Postal Service throw in with one type of fuel or continue experimenting with a number of options? Should it set more aggressive goals for reducing its use of petroleum and increasing its alternative fuel use? Or does its financial situation limit its ability to move aggressively in those areas?

  • on Feb 11th, 2013 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 7 comments

    The Postal Service is a leader among federal agencies in sustainability efforts. In 2009, it joined with 20 international postal operators to commit to a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, a goal it has made significant progress toward achieving. A major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is vehicle emissions. With the largest civilian fleet in the country – more than 213,000 vehicles – the Postal Service has both an enormous opportunity and an enormous challenge in reducing its fuel consumption. So far, the challenges have proved considerable. In its most recent sustainability report for fiscal year 2011, the Postal Service reported that while it met its sustainability goals in six categories, it did not reach its target for reducing petroleum fuel consumption in its own vehicles or in those used by contractors. A growing number of delivery points each year and an aging vehicle fleet have made it difficult for the Postal Service to reduce its petroleum use. Although the Postal Service has worked diligently towards its goal of using alternative fuels, real gains in energy efficiency will be limited until it can overhaul the fleet. Unless the Postal Service’s financial situation improves or it finds alternative methods for capital investment, it is not likely to replace its existing fleet of vehicles. This raises questions about the limitations on the Postal Service’s ability to reduce its petroleum fuel use and how it can best leverage alternative fuel options. How should the Postal Service achieve its fuel consumption goals when its financial situation is so dire? Should it suspend some of its sustainability efforts while tackling its larger financial and business model challenges? The Sustainability Report indicates that sustainability efforts make financial sense, with savings from reduced fuel use and new revenue from recycling products. Could the savings and revenues be used creatively to fund new energy-savings projects?

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