USPS Fleet Electrification: Plan First, Deploy Second

September 12, 2022

Authored by Daniel Gonzalez

The United States Postal Service has the chance to reconsider how they will plan and execute the electrification of America's oldest fleet.

The electrification of the United States Postal Service's (USPS) fleet is achievable and oncoming. The USPS operates over 228,000 vehicles, of which 190,000 are more than 30 years old. Given the typical 24-year service life for these vehicles, in order to optimize emissions avoidances and prevent latent retrofit costs in efficiencies and capital, the time to optimize the design around electric-drive technology is now.

Responding to the need to modernize its fleet, USPS awarded a 10-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract to Oshkosh Defense to manufacture up to 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles, with a loose 50% zero-emission target. In addition, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which commits $370 billion toward fighting climate change, includes $1.29 billion for the purchase of USPS zero-emission delivery vehicles and $1.71 billion for the purchase, design, and installation of the infrastructure to support zero-emission delivery vehicles at USPS facilities.

As USPS proceeds with its plans to replace their fleet, the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) remains a strong advocate for conducting Fleet Electrification Planning prior to procurement and deployment. The current USPS fleet transition, absent of fleet electrification planning, will fail to properly assess zero-emission vehicle operational capacities, resulting in inaccurate fleet replacement capital and life cycle costs and could potentially result in electric vehicles being procured and placed into duty cycles that they will not able to support properly.

CTE developed the industry standard Zero-Emission Vehicle Planning Methodology for fleets. This methodology considers vehicle and service requirements, fleet procurement timelines, infrastructure assessments, vehicle and facilities capital costs, operating and maintenance costs, and emission benefits. This methodology ensures that fleet operators make data-driven decisions as they plan to transition a portion or all of their fleet to cleaner, quieter, more efficient zero-emission vehicles.

Fleet electrification plans are recognized by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as effective planning tools and are required by FTA to receive federal funds to purchase zero-emission buses through their Low or No Emission Vehicle Program (Low-No). CTE recommends that USPS follow the standards set by FTA and conduct Fleet Electrification Planning as an integral part of the deployment of the current Oshkosh Defense contract procurement.

Fleet electrification planning will enable USPS to maintain its current procurement and deployment timeline using a comprehensive transition plan to determine which USPS routes and operations make sense to electrify now and which are better performed by conventional technology. It will also provide a more accurate estimate of zero-emission vehicle and infrastructure deployment costs. This analysis can help optimize the benefits of both conventional and electric vehicle technology to ensure maximum benefit for USPS and its customers.

The Fleet Electrification Planning process would evaluate (a) the operational feasibility and technology requirements of USPS's existing operations; (b) the cost-benefit ratio of various operational strategies, including all candidate powertrain technologies; and (c) the infrastructure requirements for fleet electrification to develop a plan that optimizes costs, efficiency, and environmental benefits.

CTE urges the United States Postal Service to execute Fleet Electrification Planning as an integral part of the deployment of their electric fleet. With proper planning, USPS can leverage the capabilities of experienced zero-emission fleet planners and engineers to modernize the USPS fleet in the most environmentally conscious and cost-effective manner.