• 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?

  • 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?


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