Turns out the U.S. Postal Service isn’t just about collecting and delivering mail. It also has an essential role in the middle. Sorting and long-haul transporting, that is.
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 much technology at their fingertips, customers now want and expect complete visibility of their mail, from entry to delivery. The Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) program has helped to bring total visibility closer to reality, and other technologies, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning system (GPS) tracking, can fill the gaps. Complete visibility of mail provides real-time information about mail to customers and the U.S. Postal Service, including service performance data.
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.
The U.S. Postal Service has a long and storied history of moving mail on rail dating from the beginning of the railroad industry in the early 1800s. Mail was sorted on trains and Post Offices and processing facilities were located near rail stations. Many innovations and changes to rail, including the very development of modern freight rail service, were closely tied to the movement of mail. Today, however, the Postal Service meets its surface transportation needs almost entirely by using trucks owned by highway contractors.
Have you ever heard of Alaska Bypass? It’s a service the U.S. Postal Service offers only in Alaska, allowing shippers to send shrink-wrapped pallets of goods at Parcel Post rates using private airlines. The Postal Service pays airlines to carry the goods to rural Alaskan communities by delivering these goods directly to the stores located in rural areas. The shippers effectively and entirely “bypass” the Postal Service’s delivery network.
U.S. Postal Service Mail Transport Equipment (MTE) consists of specialized containers such as sacks, pouches, trays, hampers, over-the-road containers and pallets. Although the Postal Service does not maintain a perpetual inventory of its MTE, a 2010 audit indicated approximately 359 million pieces in the system of 400 processing facilities, over 30,000 post offices and thousands of mailers nationwide. Proper MTE management and availability ensure the safe, secure, and timely movement of mail between Postal Service facilities and its customers or contractors
The Postal Service has evolved with the needs of a growing country for more than 230 years. A vast and complex network of processing facilities and transportation links was created to meet its universal service obligation. Today, the Postal Service has 260 Processing and Distribution Centers located throughout the country. This highly automated processing technology network provides incentives for its customers to presort the mail and drop ship it deeper into the network.
The U.S. Postal Service has experienced a significant decline in mail volume in recent years, yet its contracted surface transportation remains largely unchanged. While mail volume dropped almost 16 percent from fiscal year 2008 to 2010, the Postal Service contracted out around 1 percent more miles of highway transportation over the same period. During the same time, the Postal Service has had considerable success minimizing the number of labor hours employees spend on mail processing.
The following factors may have mitigated the effects on transportation from a volume drop: