US mail truckThe United States Postal Service is looking to replace its fleet of aging delivery trucks with new ones that are safer, more fuel-efficient, and roomier, reports Roza Kazan for CCTV America. The current fleet dates back as far as 1987, Kazan writes, and costs “hundreds of millions a year” to maintain.

The existing trucks, which are behind the times, get only about nine miles to the gallon, Aaron M. Kessler writes for The New York Times. They lack such important safety features as anti-lock brakes and airbags, backup cameras and warning systems, and anti-skid surfaces, Kessler writes. The current fleet also lacks air conditioning, he notes.

Michael Ellis, a Virginia postal carrier, told Kessler how dangerous the bare metal footholds are on the existing trucks, in wintry weather. It is too easy to slip on them, Ellis said. He added that when possible, he tries to park where he does not have to back up, because the trucks’ rear visibility is not the best. Kessler writes: “While the Postal Service is not claiming the new mail trucks will reduce the number of accidents, it does expect they will keep postal workers safer if they are in a crash.”

The Postal Service is also looking for the new trucks to be more ergonomic, writes Drivers need to be able to stand up in the new trucks, Kessler writes, such as when looking for packages in the storage area. The Postal Service is looking for automakers to include shelving units and sorting machines on the trucks to help drivers find packages more efficiently, Kessler writes.

The current fleet’s trucks, which were designed at a time when letters made up the bulk of cargo,  are not roomy enough for the increasing number of packages that mail carriers have to deliver nowadays, Kessler writes. In December 2014, the Postal Service delivered 524 million packages, an 18% increase over the previous year, he writes.

Kessler writes:

[The Postal Service] has asked automakers to consider a ‘fully enclosed van style body’ that would have internal cargo capacity and even sliding side doors.

‘Most likely it’ll be a van of some kind, but we’re still early in the process,’ said Sarah Ninivaggi, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service. ‘It will definitely be larger and likely with a different shape than what we have now.’

It costs the USPS more than $500 million a year for gasoline alone for its current crop of aging trucks, Kazan writes. The beleaguered Postal Service reported a $2 billion loss in 2014, she notes.

The USPS is looking to buy approximately 180,000 new mail delivery trucks, Kazan writes.“Though government bidding is highly competitive and margins tend to be small, experts say the winning bid could still snag a car maker upwards of $5 billion,” Kazan writes. A new fleet that takes advantage of new technologies will help the USPS to better compete on package deliveries with such businesses as FedEx and United Parcel Service. The Postal Service is open to alternative motors, including hybrid, natural gas, fuel cell, or electric, Kessler writes, if automakers can show that any of those would be as effective as internal combustion engines.

Companies hoping to be chosen to supply the new fleet will submit information by mid-March to be “qualified” to bid, Kessler writes. Once the Postal Service selects the qualified companies, those businesses will present formal bids and have the new designs ready by summer. Postal officials will choose two or three versions, and the automakers will create prototypes by the end of the year. Those will be driven in real-world situations and put through tests, and eventually the Postal Service will choose the winner, Kessler writes. The target date to have the new fleet up and running is 2018.

Image by Elvert Barnes

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