• on Jul 28th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 84 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 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?