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Published on January 14th, 2010 | by John Ivanko

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From Stagecoach to Electric T3s and CitiVans: U.S. Postal Service Delivering Green

January 14th, 2010 by  
 

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.

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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


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About the Author

John Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, is the co-author of ECOpreneuring, Rural Renaissance and Edible Earth, innkeeper of the award-winning Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, national speaker, freelance writer, and copartner in a marketing consulting company. Ivanko is also an award-winning photographer and author or co-author of numerous books, including the award-winning children's photobooks, To Be a Kid, To Be an Artist, Be My Neighbor and Animal Friends, which help support the Global Fund for Children Books. He's contributed to Natural Home, E/The Environmental Magazine, Mother Earth News, Hobby Farms and Wisconsin Trails, among many others. Former advertising agency fast-trackers, the husband and wife duo are nationally recognized for their contemporary approach to ecopreneurship, homesteading, conservation and more sustainable living. Based in Browntown, Wisconsin, they share their farm and Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast with their son, a 10kW Bergey wind turbine, and millions of ladybugs.



  • They stand to save a lot of money on petrol as well as reducing emissions dramatically. I think it’s a good deal.

  • They stand to save a lot of money on petrol as well as reducing emissions dramatically. I think it’s a good deal.

  • walker

    You would think after all of these years you would not see any Rural Carriers still sitting in the middle of a vehicle delivering the mail. Before you expand and replace your existing, and add GPS to your fleet why not get all of your employees who drive and deliver a vehicle so they can do their job safely.

  • walker

    You would think after all of these years you would not see any Rural Carriers still sitting in the middle of a vehicle delivering the mail. Before you expand and replace your existing, and add GPS to your fleet why not get all of your employees who drive and deliver a vehicle so they can do their job safely.

  • ChuckL

    I object to the use of the “it’s better than doing nothing” comment. That attitude has produced more problems than it has ever solved. In many cases “doing nothing” is precisely the best thing to do.

    How many of the Fords and other massive vans that had blow-outs in a rear tire would have recovered themselves if the driver had done NOTHING rather than hitting the brakes. Car and Driver magazine tested to find the cause and speed required to result in a rollover when the rear tire blew out. There were no problems until the brake was used. That includes straight stops from over 50 mph with NO hands on the steering wheel.

    NOTHING is always better than BAD.

  • ChuckL

    I object to the use of the “it’s better than doing nothing” comment. That attitude has produced more problems than it has ever solved. In many cases “doing nothing” is precisely the best thing to do.

    How many of the Fords and other massive vans that had blow-outs in a rear tire would have recovered themselves if the driver had done NOTHING rather than hitting the brakes. Car and Driver magazine tested to find the cause and speed required to result in a rollover when the rear tire blew out. There were no problems until the brake was used. That includes straight stops from over 50 mph with NO hands on the steering wheel.

    NOTHING is always better than BAD.

  • I still think it’s a good idea to start with something to help save the environment.Accepting that we are wrong is the first step to change. Doing something about our mistakes shows our maturity. This is where some people fail.

    This is great news for Mother Nature and for everyone who loves to breathe in fresh air.

  • I still think it’s a good idea to start with something to help save the environment.Accepting that we are wrong is the first step to change. Doing something about our mistakes shows our maturity. This is where some people fail.

    This is great news for Mother Nature and for everyone who loves to breathe in fresh air.

  • Echoing Chuck and April, I applaud the Postal Service for taking real steps toward cleaner vehicles and fuels. The mail delivered to my home in Minnesota is transported by a flex-fuel vehicle using E85. I know because the station they fill up at is just a few blocks away, near the post office.

  • Echoing Chuck and April, I applaud the Postal Service for taking real steps toward cleaner vehicles and fuels. The mail delivered to my home in Minnesota is transported by a flex-fuel vehicle using E85. I know because the station they fill up at is just a few blocks away, near the post office.

  • 4 cents a mile? That can’t be the cost of the electricity. There are full sized electric delivery vehicles that get 3 cents a mile.

  • 4 cents a mile? That can’t be the cost of the electricity. There are full sized electric delivery vehicles that get 3 cents a mile.

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