• on Oct 31st, 2011 in Pricing & Rates | 13 comments
    When mailing a letter that weighs about one ounce, the U.S. Postal Service’s 44 cents is one of lowest First Class postage rates. Whether you are mailing a letter locally or sending a greeting card across country, it still only costs 44 cents now, but will increase to 45 cents in January. The graph below compares the U.S. Postal Service’s postage rate with other countries. As you can see, Norway charges the highest rate, which is nearly four times the cost U.S. rate.

     

    Source: 2011 Office of Inspector General analysis of Universal Postal Union data

    Some might feel it is reasonable for the Postal Service to increase rates and charge a fee comparable to those in other countries. On the contrary, others might say the Postal Service’s rate must remain at an affordable level, especially for people with lower incomes. They might also say raising the rate to a level found elsewhere would drive customers away even faster. When you think about prices paid for other goods and services, just how far does 44, 50, or even 75 cents go? By comparison, a small cup of coffee at McDonalds costs a dollar, a gallon of gasoline is over $3, and a gallon of milk is about $4. Share your thoughts below. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Financial Reporting Directorate.
  • on Sep 5th, 2011 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 5 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service has aggressively moved to reduce costs by consolidating its processing network and realigning its delivery facilities. However, it has essentially eliminated rail transportation, which is the least costly way to move mail long distances. During the recent economic downturn, railroads invested heavily in infrastructure to improve service. Private industry shippers of time-sensitive materials have responded to these improvements by shifting volume from highway to rail. UPS (the largest rail customer in the U.S.) attempts to put any package traveling over 750 miles on rail. JB Hunt, one of the Postal Service’s largest highway contractors, has shifted a substantial freight volume to rail and now earns more than one-third of its overall revenue from intermodal rail transportation. The potential benefits to the Postal Service are clear. Rail is a less expensive and more environmentally friendly transportation mode compared to trucking. Recent estimates show that intermodal rail service can improve fuel efficiency by about 3.5 times relative to highway tractor-trailer service. In addition, rail gives the Postal Service more capacity flexibility as this mode can operate one-way, while highway transportation must be purchased in round-trips. Since Postal Service volumes tend to flow from north to south and east to west, utilizing rail would avoid the cost of paying for empty or near-empty trucks on the return trips. Rail is also far less susceptible to the weather interruptions that can wreak havoc on highways. The shift to rail, however, is not without its drawbacks. On average, rail is slower than highway transportation. It would also require greater monitoring and pre-planning and complex decision-making by management. For example, the Postal Service would need to choose when to dispatch to rail yards versus alternatives such as dispatching a highway trailer to a network distribution center or other consolidation points. Although it would require some additional efforts, the potential savings to the Postal Service of converting from highway to rail could be tremendous. While concerns related to speed of service moved the Postal Service almost completely away from rail, other shipping companies are embracing rail with vigor. This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Feb 7th, 2011 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments
    [dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] I [/dropcap]n recent years, a growing number of people have chosen to avoid crowded shopping malls by doing their holiday shopping online. To a certain extent, online shopping reduces their carbon footprint by keeping these individuals from driving to and from the store. However, their packages still have to be delivered. What if postal customers could choose to have carbon neutral delivery for an extra fee? In 2009, Itella, Finland’s postal service, introduced a program where customers could pay extra for carbon neutral delivery, adding the “Itella Green” marking to letters for less than a penny or parcels for around five cents. Itella achieved carbon neutrality through a combination of energy efficient delivery vehicles by funding reputable, environmentally-friendly projects. While Itella’s plans include increasing carbon efficiency in all three phases of the package delivery process: sorting, transportation, and delivery, the greatest carbon efficiency gains currently come from their shift to electric or fuel efficient delivery vehicles. On February 1 Itella made the cost of carbon neutrality a standard part of all postage, making it the first country to offer completely carbon neutral delivery. That way, when a customer uses Itella to send a letter, package, or direct mail, they know they are getting zero net emissions. Through their efforts, Itella has made carbon neutral delivery, a key element in developing a “green” reputation and an advantage in competitive areas like package delivery. Is offering carbon neutral delivery as a separate, specialized service that customers can purchase an idea worth exploring for the Postal Service? The Postal Service is already in the process of converting its delivery fleet to cleaner electric vehicles, making carbon neutrality easier to achieve in the coming years. Moreover, does it make sense to give consumers a choice in terms of the environmental friendliness of their mail delivery? Sources: Hellmail Itella This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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