• on Jul 28th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 91 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 | 49 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?

  • on Dec 9th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    Today’s consumers are a demanding bunch – expecting to get what they want precisely when and where they want it.

    These changing expectations are putting the pressure on both brick and mortar retailers as well as online retailers. Pressure grows to deliver goods faster, cheaper, and with more flexibility. Now, customers expect free shipping and overnight delivery or, in some cities, same-day delivery.

    It seems same-day delivery might not be fast enough for some. Amazon.com is toying with the idea of delivering packages within 30 minutes – via drone.

    In an interview on a recent CBS “60 Minutes” news program, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos discussed his Prime Air unmanned aircrafts, which he claims carry packages up to 5 pounds – the weight of most parcels Amazon.com delivers – and have a range of about 10 miles. This could make them viable in more densely populated areas. Bezos thinks he could get this service up and running in about 5 years.

    So is all this drone delivery talk just pie in the sky or a potential delivery path worth considering?

    The technology is getting there. It’s already being tested in other parts of the world. In Australia, a textbook rental company, Zookal, plans to use drones to deliver textbooks to students as early as March 2014. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley startup Matternet is testing drone delivery in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and sees the potential for using these small, electric crafts to deliver goods in populated areas where they can make multiple deliveries within their limited range of a few miles.

    But it’s likely to be some time before U.S. skies look like something out of “Star Wars,” with thousands of small, autonomous aircrafts zipping around and dropping packages at our doorsteps. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t moving too quickly to open the skies for commercial drone purposes, and understandably so. The thought of unmanned vehicles flying in areas with lots of air traffic raises significant safety concerns.

    Still, innovation is all about experimenting. Many people in the late 19th century thought the light bulb would never catch on. What are your thoughts on these delivery drones? Is driver-free, aerial delivery the answer to the growing demands of consumers? Is this a feasible option for the Postal Service in the coming years? Or could it be more like the Postal Service’s ill-fated test of “rocket mail” from the late 1950s where a cruise missile loaded with mail launched from a submarine? That experiment didn’t gain traction. 

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