The U.S Postal Service is now on the verge of unveiling its new fleet of delivery vehicles — which will cost more than $2 billion. The plan underscores waste the service cannot afford.
This was the conclusion of a just-released study commissioned by the advocacy group Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE). It comes at a time when the Postal Service is already under sharp criticism for late deliveries.
As first-class mail has declined by roughly a fifth in the last five years, this latest revelation of money wasted on vehicles is likely to raise the volume of calls for changing the law to permit competition in delivery of daily mail.
The controversy began earlier this year, as the USPS issued a Request for Information (RFI) in January. This was followed by a Request for Proposal (RFP) in October, to replace its Grumman Long Life Vehicles (LLVs) — which were purchased in 1987 — with up to 180,000 “next generation delivery vehicles” (NGDVs).
The USPS plans to hold on to this newer fleet of vehicles for at least the next twenty years.
The problems with USPS making a one-time bulk purchase of purpose-built vehicles to keep in service for the next two decades are multiple.
Committing to a vehicle that is exclusively designed and manufactured for the USPS locks the Service in to today’s automotive technologies for another generation. It squanders at least twenty years of opportunity to benefit from advancements in transportation technology, safety, and fuel savings.
The legacy of the predecessor-vehicles is proof positive. The Grumman LLVs the Service uses today average 10 miles per gallon and carry a hefty price tag to maintain. In 2013 alone, the USPS spent more than $450 million to service its nearly 30-year old, made-to-order LLV fleet.
Due to its long lifespan and lack of flexibility, this expensive motor pool missed key safety developments that are standard on every car manufactured today. These include airbags, anti-lock brakes, and intermittent wipers.
“These guys are embracing the status quo and the status quo has been shown to put them through the wringer,” Ken Blackwell, former Ohio state treasurer and advisor to SAFE, told me, “and the worst part is that the postal customers are going to be stuck with the tab.”
At a time when the number of people using “snail mail” is diminishing and the cost of delivery is now 49 cents per stamp in the U.S., it seems quite likely that the remaining postal customers will have to pay for sure-to-come higher costs in owning and operating this next fleet of vehicles over the coming years, pointing to potential hikes in the price of stamps, concludes SAFE.
Already, retired Former Commander of U.S. Transportation Command for the U.S. Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb,a member of SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council, briefed legislative offices and warned of the dangers of the pending one-time bulk purchase of mail carriers.
In addition, SAFE commissioned a study by Dr. Robert Wescott, former chief economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisors, on the dangers of this “one size fits all” purchase by USPS. It is from this study that the figure of more than $2 billion in savings on sure-to-be-required repairs over the next twenty years emerges.
Purchasing a mixed fleet of off-the-shelf vehicles and turning it over after 10 to 12 years rather than 20-to-25 years, Wescott’s study concluded, “will save USPS more $2 billion over 24 years.”
The off-the-shelf vehicles “will have lower fuel and maintenance costs, as well as a higher residual value, than a fleet of purpose-built vehicles outlined in the January 2015 RFI,” according to Wescott.
He added that such a change in the nature of the purchase will yield such benefits as permitting USPS “to adopt new technologies, increasing fuel efficiency, safety, health, and comfort.” Not only is purchasing a mixed fleet of off-the-shelf vehicles, and turning it over after 10 to 12 years, more cost -effective, it’s also a practice followed by private sector competitors FedEx and UPS, as well as nearly all postal carrier services around the world.
Other changes in the nature of mail delivery that cry out for a reform of the vehicles being used as mail carriers are the changing demographics. As more of the U.S. population moves to urban areas, increasing urban deliveries will require more left-hand drive vehicles to navigate city streets. Door-to-door deliveries favor right-hand drive vehicles.
It is inarguable that there are several reforms needed to streamline and improve the USPS. Reform in just what sort of vehicle will carry letters and packages is clearly a pressing need, as is escape from what SAFE’s Blackwell calls “the culture of sameness.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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