Service is fighting a battle it cannot win. An army of letter
carriers, clad in polyester, trudge door to door each day
delivering the nation's mail. Their speed? About 2.5 miles per
hour! Meanwhile, inside the homes and businesses of America,
E-mail and other electronic communications zip along the nation's
information superhighway literally at the speed of light - 186,282
miles per second. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ZIP.
about 1.8 million new delivery points are added to the postal
system. Yet, the Postal Service is cutting personnel and can't
afford additional employees to help service the additional
delivery points. The Postal Service can't afford additional
personnel, and grow with the economy, because E-mail and other
speed of light communications are diverting paper mail to
electronic mail, facsimiles, etc, - undermining postal revenues.
At some point in the next couple of years an already stretched
Postal Service will have been stretched too thin. The Postal
Service needs to get up to speed, and quick.
Unfortunately, change at the Postal Service might as well be
measured by geological periods, not accounting periods. Already,
the Postal Service's new "transformation" plan is dead in the
water. A key component of the plan, negotiated (flexible) rates
for mailers, has already been shot down by lawmakers. (Shouldn't
universal service also entail universal rates?) Now, for all
practical purposes, postal reform is dead in 2002, and real
(institutional) change may only be possible by the equivalent of
an asteroid impact.
It was an
asteroid that ended the age of the Dinosaurs. The asteroid
hastened the development of smaller, nimbler creatures that could
better react to prevailing conditions. So it will be with the
Postal Service. Smaller, nimbler companies may ultimately out-tech
and outmaneuver the Postal Service. However, the Postal Service
isn't finished yet, it has at least the equivalent of one
geological period left.
Postal Service has within its abilities several options to get up
to speed. However, the Postal Service is potentially driving down
the wrong road in searching for ways to do this. Currently, the
Postal Service is testing Segway HTs on the sidewalks of America,
when it should be enabling most every letter carrier in the nation
to drive down the roadways of America. Curbside (or centralized)
delivery of every delivery point in America, accomplished from
motor vehicles (jeeps, CRVs, LLVs, etc.), will enable the USPS to
be nimble, competitive, and efficient in the 21st century. The
Segway, neat as it is, is not sufficient for the task.
Service recently purchased 40 Segway HTs, the ultra-tech scooters,
at a reported cost of $9,000 each for a total of approximately
$360,000. The Segways are currently being tested by the USPS in
several cities throughout the United States to determine if they
can enable letter carriers (who walk their routes) to deliver mail
more quickly. Though the scooters, which travel at about nine to
ten miles per hour, are quicker than a human walking at 2.5, they
are not one of the answers to the Postal Service's speed problems.
(1.) The best reason, discussed in more detail later, is that
vehicle deliveries (via LLVs, CRVs, jeeps, etc.) are much more
proficient and faster. (2.) Already in deficits, the USPS may not
be able to afford a fleet of Segways. There would be training
costs, maintenance costs, repair costs, etc. etc. (3.) They may
not be inherently safer than walking door to door, thereby not
contributing to the containment of injury expenses by the USPS.
(4.) I still have not heard that the USPS has figured out a way to
transport the Segways to the carrier's routes. At about 70 pounds
apiece, the weight of the Segway would make it difficult for many
carriers to remove and load the Segway from their vehicles.
Moreover, the USPS in some areas of the country is moving to add
Casual employees to the delivery workforce. These Casuals are
required in many cases to use their own vehicles. (5.) My post
office has about 40 walking routes. Where would 30-40 Segways and
their recharging equipment be stored? (6.) I doubt that Segways
would be allowed right-of-ways through customer's lawns. As such,
the use of Segways would require carriers to "square off"
deliveries by using only sidewalks and streets. Then, in most
cases, the carrier would still have to dismount to place mail in
the customer's mailbox. All in all, Segways would be "neat".
Unfortunately, their costs are prohibitive and their efficiencies
are debatable. (It would be funny, however, to one day in the
future see a letter carrier zipping down the street on a Segway
being chased by a dog. Of course, now you see the point about
To be cost
efficient, Segways must present significant savings to recover
their acquisition, training, maintenance, and service costs. The
latest reports from field testing indicates that time savings are
"a wash". Though the speed of a Segway is faster, by the time
loading, unloading, mounts, dismounts, and other time factors are
considered, there appears to be no time savings over current
conversion of all letter carrier routes to curbside and
centralized delivery, however, presents significant opportunities
for time savings and increased efficiencies. Currently, rural
deliveries and all new deliveries are accomplished by curbside or
centralized delivery from vehicles. However, many letter carriers
in cities and towns across America still trudge door to door. The
conversion of these "park and loop" routes to curbside delivery
presents a number of cost saving factors:
and centralized deliveries (mounted) are on average 50% more
efficient than walking deliveries.
deliveries are compatible with mail automation initiatives.
Letter Carriers who walk to deliver the mail almost literally
need a third arm to handle the various types of sorted mail
(carrier cased letters, flats, Delivery Point Sequence (DPS)
mail, third bundle mail such as circulars and other full
are minimized with mounted deliveries. Park and Loop routes are
very labor intensive and contribute to a large number of
injuries. (About 15,000 trips, slips, and falls are experienced
annually by letter carriers on walking routes.) And because the
work is so intensive and arduous, some letter carriers are in no
hurry to return to letter carrying duties after sustaining
injuries. (Although injuries for most carriers are real, some
linger on light and limited duty courtesy of sympathetic
doctor's notes.) Mounted deliveries would minimize foot, leg,
shoulder, and arm injuries while also potentially reducing dog
attacks and other injuries. Mounted deliveries would also
minimize the resistance to carrying that some reluctant carriers
Automation is enabling longer street delivery times, and many
letter carriers are already at their limit in what they can
physically carry on the street. Ten years ago letter carriers on
average used about three and a half hours in the office sorting
mail and about four and a half hours on the street delivering.
Now, carriers are spending about two and a half hours in the
office sorting and five and a half hours on the street (the
routes are longer). In the future, street delivery time for each
carrier could be close to eight hours once full automation is
realized. For many carriers that are currently on walking
routes, the thought and reality of eight hours on the street is
outlandish and troubling. Mounted deliveries will allow carriers
to physically (and mentally) accomplish the street times and
deliveries of tomorrow.
managers across the nation are presently perplexed and flummoxed
by carrier office times. Many carriers are in no hurry to begin
their arduous street deliveries. The office is nice and cool.
Outside, it's hot, cold, raining, snowing, etc. Mounted
deliveries will help make the day more palatable for letter
carriers presently walking door to door. (I've seen more than a
few letter carriers who were about the sorriest workers you
could find anywhere in any company in America when they had
walking routes who became decent and/or even above average
carriers once they obtained mounted routes.) I believe labor
relations between letter carriers and management would improve
if all deliveries were mounted. (Note that labor relations
between carriers and management are most confrontational in
major cities where the multitude of walking routes still exist.
Grievance costs may also be reduced - and so might sick leave!)
- If the
Postal Service is going to capitalize on the Internet Revolution
its best chance may be in capturing parcel business from the
mail order/Internet order market. Segways can't carry too many
parcels, but the new CRVs can!
- Best of
all, the Postal Service won't have to buy one new vehicle. In
fact, after a few thousand routes are cut nationwide there will
be leftover vehicles to send to rural carriers who currently use
their own vehicles.
Service needs to transform and get up to speed quick. Converting
all existing walking deliveries to curbside and centralized
deliveries is a step in that direction. It's one of the few
operational options that currently exists for the USPS to pursue,
now that postal reform at the political level is currently dead in
the water. Politically speaking, the move to total mounted
delivery is probably the least politically charged of the several
"major" options available to the USPS. It's certainly more
politically viable than ending Saturday delivery. Moreover, the
USPS has a leg to stand on in this case. The Universal Delivery
mantra is a centerpiece of USPS commitments to the public.
Converting current park and loop routes to mounted delivery would
standardize mail delivery across the land. Customers in the cities
would receive their mail just like customers in the suburbs and
outlying rural areas. Such a move would also be fair and
advantageous to the Postal Service. Why should the Postal Service
be beholden by precedent with keeping walking deliveries (for
example) to houses built in the 1930s? Just because that is the
way deliveries were accomplished then doesn't mean that is the way
deliveries should be accomplished now.
all routes to mounted deliveries would be beneficial to the Postal
Service, to letter carriers, and to postal customers. The Postal
Service would realize greater efficiencies, letter carriers would
realize better working conditions, and postal customers would
potentially realize earlier and more consistent delivery times.