• on Oct 5th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 3 comments

    Pretty soon, Americans will have no reason to leave their homes. We can order everything online and have it delivered to our doors – even groceries. That’s good news for package delivery companies, if not for Americans’ Vitamin D intake.

    Attention has centered lately on grocery delivery, with the U.S. Postal Service unveiling its plans to get in the game. The Postal Service recently asked the Postal Regulatory Commission to let it expand its test with Amazon into a broader 2-year test available to other retailers. Under the test, retailers would drop off their grocery orders in color-schemed tote bags at local post offices between 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Postal officials would map out the day’s deliveries and then city carrier assistants would load the trucks and deliver the totes between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., leaving them at front doors. The carriers would use iPhones to scan for tracking purposes.

    Given Americans’ love affair with food, grocery delivery seems like a safe bet. But it’s a fragmented market and some players already have a foothold in certain cities. Peapod, Instacart, and Fresh Direct are fairly well-established in some locations and work with many of the big name grocery stores. Walmart with its Walmart to Go and Safeway are testing delivery of groceries from their own stores in select cities.

    Still the Postal Service, with its local presence and national reach, brings expertise as a delivery company to the table. Its ability to “dynamically route” the deliveries each day based on supply also helps. That is, it can adjust deliveries and routes as needed to achieve the greatest route density, which is critical to success. Further, this service would allow the Postal Service to use delivery vehicles when they normally sit idle, although extra wear and tear on its aging fleet could prove problematic.

    If the Postal Service gets the pricing right, it could entice some retailers to give the service a try. But pricing is a big question: Can the Postal Service price it right? The market test should help answer some other questions: Will bags of groceries left unattended in the early morning hours be susceptible to theft? Has the Postal Service waited too long to enter the market? Or does its delivery expertise and presence in every community give the Postal Service a competitive advantage? 

  • on Aug 4th, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 34 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 | 90 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? 

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