• on Aug 4th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 35 comments

    Delivery is its bread-and-butter. And service is in its name. So, the U.S. Postal Service takes pride in delivering mail to every address in America.

    But declining mail volume, changes in the network, a downsizing of its workforce, and evolving customer needs have led to changes in delivery. Further, a wide range of variables, such as weather, employee absences, or new carriers to a route, can affect delivery every day. These changes and variables pose challenges to the Postal Service in meeting its targeted “24-hour clock initiative,” which is to collect, distribute, and deliver mail on time and to have 95 percent of letter carriers off the street by 5 p.m.

    In recent years, more carriers have been returning after 5 p.m. That percentage increased nationally from 25 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 38 percent in FY 2013. Mail delivery after dark raises carrier safety concerns while late mail makes consumers unhappy.

    Our recent audit report looked specifically at the Capital District, which experienced a 14 percentage point increase in city carriers returning after 5 p.m. We found the increase was due to (1) delayed delivery of mail from the processing facilities to the delivery units, and (2) supervisors failing to properly supervise city delivery operations. Our recommendations centered on modifying operating plans to get mail to the delivery unit earlier in the day and on adhering to policies and procedures for supervising city delivery operations.

    Also, we encouraged management and union officials to work together to address carrier safety. External stakeholders have already offered some ideas worth considering, such as brightly colored, reflective clothing to make carriers more visible, and realigning delivery routes so carriers can start earlier in dangerous areas.

    We welcome your suggestions as well. What more could be done to get carriers off the streets by the targeted 5 p.m. return time? Given all the variables that can affect the ability to complete deliveries by 5 p.m., what additional precautions could be taken to enhance carrier safety? 

  • on Jul 28th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 92 comments

    What should the postal vehicle of the future look like? The U.S. Postal Service recently put that question to its carriers and vehicle maintenance personnel and is currently reviewing the feedback. It’s an important question because the delivery fleet is aging and the Postal Service needs to quickly replace it. In fact, our recent audit on the topic found the current fleet can only meet delivery needs through fiscal year 2017 – and that assumes no unexpected decrease in vehicle inventory or increase in the number of motorized routes.

    About 142,000 long-life vehicles (LLVs) out of the 190,000-vehicle total delivery fleet are near or have exceeded their expected service life. Replacing these aging vehicles is daunting, particularly given the Postal Service’s financial constraints.

    But fleet replacement isn’t just a major challenge; it’s also a big opportunity. Because the LLVs are up to 27 years old, they aren’t as fuel efficient as newer models. They also lack many of the safety features now considered standard for vehicle fleets, such as back-up cameras, front airbags, and anti-lock brakes. The next generation of vehicles can incorporate the latest safety and environmental bells and whistles, which will protect employees, cut down on fuel costs, and help the Postal Service meet its sustainability goals. Also, given the growth in packages, new vehicle designs could address the challenges of larger and irregularly shaped items.

    The Postal Service has a short- and long-term vehicle fleet acquisition strategy, but we found the plan lacks details such as vehicle specifications and green technology features. Also, despite 3 years of effort, the plan has not been approved or fully funded due primarily to the Postal Service’s lack of capital. Given the urgent need to upgrade the fleet, we are encouraging the Postal Service to make some incremental purchases while formalizing a more specific long-term plan for the next generation of LLVs.

    What are your thoughts on future postal vehicles? What should they look like? What safety and environmental features or other technologies would you like the Postal Service to add? 

  • on Dec 30th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 51 comments

    The 2013 holiday season turned out to be a particularly eventful one for e-tailers and the shippers that deliver all those packages to your door.

    Factors like fewer than average shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and an increasing comfort level with online buying helped push holiday e-commerce up significantly. In fact, demand exceeded expectations and stressed shippers’ capacity, causing some late deliveries of their goods.  

    Package delivery is clearly a growth industry and the Postal Service expects its piece of that business to rise 6 to 7 percent annually through fiscal year 2017. But is the Postal Service ready for all these packages? Can it meet the growing demand, or is it hampered by a delivery infrastructure that is largely geared toward letters and flats? We recently took a look at the issue and the results were mixed.

    Our audit report, Readiness for Package Growth – Delivery Operations, found the Postal Service has done a good job of managing package growth in terms of mail volume and workhours. But it could make some changes to better handle future increases. For example, to-the-door delivery works well but curbside mailboxes were primarily designed for letters, flats, and small parcels, and they can’t easily accommodate multiple or large packages. We suggested the Postal Service look at modifying cluster boxes to accommodate more packages.

    We also encouraged the Postal Service to explore investing in shelving space on delivery vehicles to accommodate packages and to continue to develop an advanced dynamic routing system. Dynamic routing analyzes individual addresses to tell the carrier how to get to them more quickly. The tool takes into consideration things like traffic congestion and left-hand turns, both of which can eat up time and fuel. These and other steps outlined in the report should help the Postal Service expand services and increase revenue to meet growing customer demand.

    So, what was your experience over the holidays? Were you among the many Americans who bought more gifts online than in previous years? Were your delivery services reliable or did any part of the experience discourage you from future online buying? What changes would you like to see in delivery and returns?

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