Cost-effectiveness an issue for Postal Service vehicle repairs

The Postal Service spent about $524 million to fix right-hand-drive delivery trucks in fiscal 2009.
The Postal Service spent about $524 million to fix right-hand-drive delivery trucks in fiscal 2009. (Nikki Kahn/the Washington Post)
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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010

The wheels are literally falling off at the Postal Service, and it's getting more expensive to fix them, according to a report by the agency's auditors.

Most of the Postal Service's right-hand-drive delivery trucks, known as long-life vehicles (LLVs), are nearing the end of a 24-year life cycle, and the agency estimates that it would cost $4.2 billion -- or $30,000 a truck -- to replace them. The big price tag and plummeting revenue caused the Postal Service to delay buying new vehicles until 2018.

The Postal Service owns and operates the largest vehicle fleet in the world, with about 220,000 mail trucks and vans traveling more than 1.2 billion miles a year. It is the only organization in the world that owns and operates LLVs, which are driven by thousands of letter carriers six days a week.

The Postal Service spent about $524 million to fix LLVs in fiscal 2009, according to an audit published Wednesday by the agency's office of inspector general.

The report generally approves of the Postal Service's maintenance program, which repairs broken vehicles instead of replacing them. But the repair program will cost $342 million more than it would cost to buy new trucks in the next eight years unless the Postal Service starts replacing those that require more than $3,500 in repairs, the report says.

Auditors discovered that about 19,000 trucks required an average of $5,600 in maintenance, with the cost rising to as much as $43,000. Repairs ranged from complete reconstruction to minor fixes, the report said.

Postal officials told auditors that they plan to start replacing broken trucks more often next year and that they will remind maintenance staff and district managers to keep costs under control.

In February, the Postal Service recruited five firms to develop battery-powered LLVs to help reduce gasoline and maintenance costs. Each company has been offered $50,000 to deliver a prototype by August, and the vehicles will be tested on the streets of Washington, Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan said.

Letter carriers also are testing several other modes of transportation to reduce fuel and maintenance costs. Some workers are using three-wheel electric vehicles on a trial basis in Arizona, California, Florida and parts of the District, Brennan said. The vehicles can reach speeds of 12 mph, carry 45 pounds of mail and travel 40 miles before recharging. Other letter carriers in Arizona and Florida use bicycles to deliver the mail.

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