If you’re going to deliver half the world’s mail, you might as well do it with fuel-efficient vehicles, and, of course, deliver it on foot in as many communities around the country as you can.
While stymied by financial losses ($3.8 billion in 2008), the US Postal Service continues to commit resources and practice innovation when it comes to adopting fuel efficient delivery vehicles. After all, they had an all-electric delivery vehicle on the road – in 1899 (manufactured by the Winton Company).
Today, three-wheel electric vehicles, called T3s (seen to the left), are being tested as possible replacements for traditional gasoline delivery vehicles in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona. The T3 has a range of 40 miles, a maximum speed of 12 mph and a load capacity of 450 pounds. Powered by two rechargeable modules, the T3 has zero tailpipe emissions and costs 4 cents a mile to operate.
The U.S. Postal Service has also purchased all-electric two-ton step Solectria CitiVans from Solectria Corporation (now Azure Dynamics) for use in New York City. The CitiVans feature a 125kW/165 hp Solectria AC induction motor and single-speed automatic direct-drive with regenerative braking. The CitiVan has a range of 40 miles and top speed of 60 mph. It’s quite an improvement from my Seabring-Vanguard CitiCar.
To keep up with the pace of change, as of August of 2009, the US Postal Service started testing the Azure Dynamics’ Balance Hybrid Electric two-ton step van in Long Island, New York. The Balance Hybrid Electric vehicle uses a drive system for Ford’s E-450 chassis with a Morgan Olson body.
“USPS is the only federal agency with a dedicated Office of Sustainability,” said Scott Harrison, CEO of Azure Dynamics. “The organization has demonstrated its strong commitment to sustainability by publicly stating its goal of decreasing petroleum usage by 20% over the next five years while also lessening its environmental impact. Our Azure Balance Hybrid Electric can be instrumental in helping USPS achieve these goals.”
The U.S. Postal Service also operates the largest civilian fleet of alternative fuel-capable vehicles (43,000), mostly flexfuel vehicles capable of burning E85 (okay, it’s hardly perfect given our current understanding of the benefits of burning ethanol, but such steps are better than doing nothing). The USPS is experimenting with hydrogen vehicles, too.
Truth be told, their “fleet of feet” of USPS carriers making their rounds door-to-door remains one of the most ecologically sound ways of getting the mail through. The challenge here, however, is managing labor costs on almost 10,000 mail delivery routes every day. Mail is also delivered by bicycle in some parts of Arizona and Florida.
The U.S. Postal Service, an independent federal agency, serves as the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 149 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes, six days a week. It has 34,000 retail locations and relies on the sale of postage, products and services, not tax dollars, to pay for operating expenses. In a separate post, I’ll explore why this may be contributing to the challenges that now face the agency, exacerbated by the fact that more people twitter and e-mail these days than send a hand-written note or signed Christmas card.
Historically, the U.S. Postal Service has championed new modes of transportation in its ongoing effort to provide reliable and universal mail delivery. Yet, the U.S. Postal Service has a big impact on the health of our planet with the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world: nearly 220,000 vehicles traveling more than 1.2 billion miles a year.
Given all the challenges facing the long term financial viability of the U.S. Postal Service, further complicated by climate change and rising energy costs, there may come a time where some deliveries may once again be made by horse or, perhaps, not at all on certain days of the week – the ultimate in reducing both energy use and carbon emissions.
Photography: U.S. Postal Service (Media Affairs Office) and Azure Dynamics