The U.S. Postal Service needs new trucks to deliver the mail, but replacing its entire fleet would cost almost $6 billion, a price too high for an agency losing billions annually, according to a new government report.
Postal Service delivery vehicles are driven an average of about 17 miles per day and cost about $1 billion in maintenance and fuel annually, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. It owns more than 161,000 right-hand drive trucks that are nearing the end of a 24-year life cycle. About 21,000 of the trucks are capable of running on either gasoline or ethanol, as are another 22,000 left-hand-drive minivans and 3,490 delivery vehicles.
(RELATED: Watch The Federal Eye learn how to drive a mail truck in the video above, or here.)
But the cost and lack of availability of alternative fuels in some parts of the country means USPS is still running most of its alternative fuel vehicles on regular gasoline, even though it spent more money to buy the trucks, the report said.
Worse, as the truck fleet ages, there are few, if any options available to buy new trucks. A major replacement or refurbishment of the vehicles would cost about $5.8 billion, GAO said — more than half of the roughly $7 billion dollars USPS is expected to lose this year.
A similar audit last year by the Postal Service Inspector General came to similar conclusions, estimating it would cost at least $4.2 billion to replace the aging fleet.
GAO credited USPS for continuing to refurbish its current truck fleet instead of buying new ones in order to avoid major costs it can’t yet afford.
But refurbishing older vehicles can also lead to higher costs, the report found. Though most delivery vehicles incurred less than $3,500 in annual maintenance costs last year, but a handful of trucks required more than $10,500 in maintenance — or more than a third of the price it would cost to completely replace a truck, GAO said.
Postal officials told investigators that they repair instead of replace the right-hand vehicles because they are no longer available on the commercial market and are contractually obligated to provide right-hand drive trucks to rural letter carriers.
Buying newer left-hand drive minivans also makes it difficult to complete mail deliveries in communities with mailboxes placed along the right-hand side of the road, the report said. Left-hand vans also have shorter ten-year life spans, making it difficult to find replacement parts.
A USPS spokesman said the mail agency generally agrees with the report’s findings and looks forward to working with Congress to develop a new long-term vehicle purchasing plan.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who requested the report, said “it’s unacceptable that the Postal Service has no official plans to date to begin replacing its aging fleet, perhaps with more fuel efficient and cost effective vehicles.”
“But it’s also unacceptable that the Postal Service has been placed in this position financially, in part due to acts of Congress,” Carper said in a statement.
The Delaware senator, who chairs a Senate subcommittee with reponsbility for the Postal Service, is holding a hearing Tuesday on the financial future of the Postal Service. He is also reintroducing a bill on Tuesday that would end the mandated six days of mail delivery and permit postal officials to use billions of dollars it has paid to federal pension funds to make annual payments required by law to prefund the benefits of future retired postal workers.
A similar bill introduced in the last congress failed to advance.
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