Commentary – A no-brainer stimulus idea: Electrify USPS mail trucks

Source: David Roberts, Vox, April 22, 2020.

The boxy, whiny postal truck that is so familiar to Americans, with the driver on the right next to a loud sliding door, is called a Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV). As of 2018, the US Postal Service owns and operates 229,000 total vehicles, more than 141,000 of which are LLVs.

Grumman Aerospace Corporation (later Northrop-Grumman) built the LLVs on spec between 1987 and 1994. They were sophisticated at the time and have proven quite sturdy, but as any calendar will confirm, 1994 was 26 years ago. The vehicles lack such modern automotive technologies as anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, and airbags. They get about 10 miles per gallon, are too small for many modern e-commerce packages, and, somewhat disturbingly, are prone to bursting into flames.

The LLVs’ lifespan was meant to be about 24 years; they average 28 years old, with many over 30. They are so old that the USPS often has difficulty finding mechanics who can work on them. According to a December 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it now costs the USPS $2 billion a year to maintain those aging vehicles, one reason the operational costs of the “last mile” system of mail delivery have steadily risen, even as costs have been cut elsewhere in the USPS.

In 2019, the USPS fleet consumed 195 million gallons of gasoline equivalent (GGE). Of that, 194.5 million gallons were gasoline and diesel, consumption of which has risen 28 percent since 2005. The rest was a little ethanol-infused gasoline (E-85), a little biodiesel, a little natural gas, and very, very little electricity (just over 1,300 GGEs). The USPS has not made much progress modernizing its fleet.

USPS fuel costs are about $500 million a year. Vehicle fuel represents roughly half of the USPS’s energy consumption, which, at 44 trillion BTU, is the highest of any agency in the federal government.

In short, the USPS has a giant fleet of aging, energy-intensive, carbon-intensive, expensive-to-maintain vehicles that are long overdue for an upgrade.

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