Postal Service searches for solutions to its gas-guzzler problem

Monday - 6/30/2014, 4:02pm EDT

Tom Day on the Federal Drive

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By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

The U.S. Postal Service's 1990s-era, gas-guzzling delivery vehicles need replacing.

Tom Day, the agency's chief sustainability officer, said USPS is already looking at new configurations and greener options for the future fleet while it waits on funds from Congress.

The agency's most recent sustainability reports have been encouraging, Day said in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

But "the one big red dot that pops out is fuel consumption. We're just not driving it down," he said. "We've got this aging fleet and our consumption keeps heading up."

Day said the Postal Service uses state-of-the-art technology to map out the most efficient routes for its vehicles, which has helped the agency's mileage remain essentially the same. Despite this, Day said the agency spends just under $350 million on fuel due to the vehicles averaging only 7.5 miles per gallon.

'Hottest topic' still postal finances

But before USPS can swap out its old vehicles for better more efficient options, Day said the agency needs to get its finances in order — what he called the agency's "hottest topic." He said USPS hopes to eliminate the law requiring the USPS to pay in advance for retirees' health care.

"The law that was passed in 2006 has caused us serious financial troubles," Day said. "We have got to get that addressed. When we do, that will free up the cash and capital to do what we need to do, which is replace this fleet that is 25-years old."

While the agency waits on Congress, Day said USPS continues researching new vehicle technology in order to make the best purchase possible when the money comes. He said the agency is looking at electric vehicles, compressed-gas vehicles and other greener options.

USPS is also evaluating the configuration of the vehicles. With the traditional mail load of bills and magazines decreasing and package shipments increasing, Day said the agency is looking at the physical setup of the vehicles to better cater to the changing market.

One of the challenges the agency faces is the need for vehicles to have the steering wheel on the right side. Day said this complicates the production of these vehicles and adds expense. While production may be cheaper in countries like Japan, Australia or England with right-drive vehicles, the USPS complies with the Buy America Act, Day said.

The agency is also keeping an eye on what its competitors in the U.S. are driving, said Day. He said other companies have experimented with electric and compressed-gas vehicles more extensively than USPS, which the agency is keeping an eye on. As competitors, there are some limits to collaboration over new vehicle technology, but "we do talk," Day said.

In the meantime, the agency is conducting short-term maintenance on its outdated vehicles when it can. But that maintenance is not cheap, Day said, and it does not fix the agency's overall problem of lower fuel consumption levels.

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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