Funding included in President Biden’s massive social spending package would allow the U.S. Postal Service to fuel 70 percent of its massive mail delivery fleet with battery-electric power by the end of the decade, according to the agency, a major win for President Biden and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who lobbied Congress for the money.
The $1.75 trillion legislation unveiled in the House on Thursday includes roughly $6 billion for the mail agency to buy trucks from Oshkosh Defense, which won a procurement battle in February to produce the fleet, dubbed “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” or NGDVs. The Postal Service plans to buy up to 165,000 NGDVs, which can run on battery power or gasoline.
Postal spokesman David Partenheimer on Friday told The Washington Post that with the funding, the agency’s vehicle acquisitions could be completely electric by 2028, a major acceleration of the agency’s procurement plans.
Those trucks would replace the 30-year-old, gas-guzzling “Long Life Vehicles,” or LLVs, that have a reputation for catching fire after years of overuse. The first of the new trucks should hit the street in 2023, according to postal officials.
LLVs, which debuted in 1987, do not have air bags or air conditioning. In 2020, they had a fuel economy of 8.2 miles per gallon, according to Postal Service measurements, and used 97.7 million gallons of gasoline.
NGDVs have modern safety features, including air bags, backup cameras and ergonomically designed seats. They also have air conditioning, a cause for celebration among letter carriers nationwide.
“If we’re serious about tackling emissions in the transportation sector, which is now the largest emitting sector, you have to electrify vehicles and you’ve got to do these large vehicle fleets,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif), who has pushed for postal fleet electrification for years, said in an interview. “This is just the supercharging of that transition.”
President Biden, days after taking office, signed an executive order to convene a task force to push for electrification of the federal government’s 645,000 civilian vehicles; the Postal Service’s 231,000 vehicles make up the largest component of the federal fleet. But the mail agency is severely short on funds, and long-term declines in consumer and business mailing activity — the Postal Service’s main source of income — made the purchase of electric trucks very difficult.
DeJoy told House panels in February and March that the agency could only afford to make 10 percent of the NGDV fleet electric without additional funding from Congress. Agency officials told lawmakers that full electrification, including infrastructure improvements to postal facilities to accommodate charging stations, would cost $8 billion, though electric trucks are not suitable for all mail delivery routes.
“As an agency that is otherwise self-funded, the U.S. Postal Service appreciates Congress’ recognition that our electric ambition does not currently align with our financial condition and urgent operational needs,” Partenheimer said in an emailed statement.
The legislation still sits on tenuous ground. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scrapped a planned vote on the bill Thursday evening after the chamber’s progressive caucus threatened to withhold support if they could not also vote on a larger accompanying spending package. It’s also unclear if Senate moderates Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) support the measure, or if spending on postal issues could clear the Senate parliamentarian.
Investors still appeared bullish on the news. Oshkosh’s stock on Thursday shot up 6 percent, nearly $8 per share, even as it reported a 16 percent drop in operating income for the quarter during an earnings presentation. Its stock held onto the gains Friday morning but was mostly flat. A company spokesperson declined to comment.
The truck program emerged in the spring as one of few areas of common ground between the White House, congressional Democrats and DeJoy. Top Democrats — including those pushing postal truck funding — have called for DeJoy’s removal over the agency’s slow delivery performance and perceived missteps before the 2020 presidential election. And DeJoy’s original 10 percent electric plan for the NGDVs initially rattled liberal lawmakers.
But after months of negotiations, including on a larger postal overhaul bill that has since stalled, congressional Democrats and DeJoy came to an agreement on truck funding, fueled largely by the dangerous condition of the LLV fleet. Postal workers nationwide routinely speak of being stranded on their routes when their trucks break down; the Postal Service spends more than $700 million annually on LLV maintenance, according to its inspector general.
The NGDVs have side-entry doors to cargo bays and standing access from the driver’s seat to the cargo area, reducing the need for carriers to unload packages from the back of their trucks. Mail carriers have been injured and even killed after other vehicles hit their LLVs while they are unloading them through rear cargo areas.
The new trucks are also a key component of DeJoy’s controversial 10-year plan for the Postal Service, some parts of which, such as higher prices and slower service, have already been rolled out. The NGDVs have more cargo room than the LLVs and are built to carry more packages, as the Postal Service pivots its focus from mail to parcel delivery.
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