The United States Postal Service doesn’t have the financial resources to fully replace its aging vehicle fleet with newer, more IT-enabled and greener vehicles, a new report from the USPS Inspector General said.
The fleet of almost 212,000 vehicles is one of the largest vehicle fleets in the country, of which 75 percent — or almost 160,000 — are long-life vehicles with a projected life of approximately 24 years. But some are as many three years older than that, causing vehicle maintenance costs to rise. In fiscal year 2012, the postal service spent more than $906 million on maintenance, the cost of which has increased by almost $100 million since 2007.
In an ideal budget environment, the IG report recommended that the USPS look into vehicles equipped with some technologies to improve performance and durability.
“The need to replace its collection and delivery vehicles offers the Postal Service an opportunity to significantly improve the efficiency and technology of the fleet,” the report said. “This acquisition is also critical to meeting future delivery needs in the growing package market, reducing petroleum fuel costs and use, and cutting maintenance costs. Management must consider federal fleet regulatory requirements, emerging vehicle technologies and trends, and fleet management best practices as it designs its next generation of collection and delivery vehicles.”
Fleetwide GPS tracking is one solution the report said the postal service could use to gain a better insight into how the vehicles themselves function, which could extend their lives.
The GPS technology the IG has called for will help identify when a vehicle is idling, which could help save on fuel consumption. Another way to decrease fuel consumption is through speeding oversight, which would be tracked through an onboard computer system. Through onboard monitoring, the system in the vehicle can also keep track of several metrics to optimize maintenance intervals, the report said.
GPS technology can also help optimize routes for mail carriers; however, more information on further GPS integration and geofencing is due in a future audit report from the USPS IG, which would follow its September 2011 report that recommended the USPS work with vendors to improve its current technology and explore “an end-to-end GPS platform.”
But some of the older vehicles in the fleet don’t even have features the agency now considers standard, including front airbags, blind-spot warning systems, anti-lock brake systems and seatbelt reminders.
In 2011, the postal service implemented a short-term plan to hold the agency over until fiscal year 2017, when their long-term plan called for a purchase of “the next-generation of delivery vehicles.” Three years later, the postal service still has not approved or funded the long-term plan, leaving the future of the vehicles uncertain. But the IG’s analysis found the postal service could sustain its delivery operations until 2017, without much room for error.
“[USPS] could experience vehicle shortfalls if there are unexpected decreases in vehicle inventory or increases in motorized routes,” the report said. “Aging vehicles are typically repaired when they break down, even though it would sometimes be more cost-effective to replace them.”
Despite having the resources to get the fleet to 2017, the postal service does not have the financial resources to fund any potential replenishment. In the meantime, delivery operations officials have attempted to pursue funding increases through the agency’s budget process. The postal service initiated a partially-funded plan to acquire new vehicles. In March 2014, the postmaster general approved the purchase of about 3,500 new vehicles to add to the fleet.
The USPS IG recommended that the postal service continue these short-term annual vehicle acquisitions in order to meet the immediate needs of a growing and aging delivery service but also that the agency formalize its long-term strategy by establishing plans to replace its fleet with sustainable and green vehicles.
USPS managers told the IG that the fleet replacement strategy will be developed by January 2015.
“In accordance with the long-term delivery vehicle replacement strategy to begin large scale vehicle replacements in FY 2017, a cross functional group consisting of supply management, engineering and delivery programs support has begun the process of formalizing a fleet replacement strategy,” USPS said in the report.