Exploring Fuel Alternatives for the Largest Civilian Fleet – the USPS
With an estimated 219,000 service vehicles, the United State Postal Service operates the largest civilian fleet in the country. Since the vast majority of these vehicles are powered by gasoline, rising gas prices are having a huge impact on operating costs.
According to the New York Times, every 1-cent increase in the price of a gallon of gas costs the USPS $8 million. In 2007, the fleet drank $1.7 billion in gasoline. This year costs are projected to go up by $600 million, giving the USPS the motivation to find alternatives.
President Obama has an idea to reduce dependence on gasoline. His energy plan calls for putting a million electric cars on American roads over the next six years. This gives Ruth Y. Goldway, a member of the United States Postal Regulatory Commission, an idea.
Goldway writes, “Converting just its 142,000 standard delivery trucks would reduce gasoline consumption by up to 68 million gallons a year and save the Postal Service millions of dollars. Delivery vehicles could be powered by electricity from solar panels installed on the roofs of mail sorting centers and local post offices — a self-sufficient system. You could plug in your own electric car there while you drop off parcels and buy stamps.“
She also points out that by converting at least a chunk of the USPS fleet, green jobs would be created across the country. Times are tough and the recession is taking a toll on virtually everyone. Could electric postal vehicles be just what the country needs?
The USPS already had one failed attempt at reducing dependence on gasoline. Between 1999 and 2005, it purchased more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans. The vehicles had larger engines than the vehicles they replaced and got as much as 29 percent fewer miles per gallon. Since corn-based fuel is not readily available in many areas, the USPS powered less than 1,000 of the vehicles with ethanol.
The result? The U.S. Postal Service increased its gasoline consumption by more than 1.5 million gallons after purchasing the ethanol-capable vehicles.
Ready to try again, the USPS is now testing a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. In July, General Motors provided the agency with the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicle. This fourth-generation vehicle uses no petroleum-based fuel.
The USPS entered an agreement with General Motors to participate in a two-year trial of the fuel cell vehicles.
Richard Maher, a USPS spokesperson in Irvine, Calif. told Government Executive, “The carriers like it a lot. It’s very comfortable.” He also said the vehicle is extremely quiet and has smooth acceleration.
This is not the first time the USPS has tested Chevrolet’s hydrogen cell vehicles. Maher said the previous prototype was rejected because it was smaller and quieter than the current Equinox model. Its small size restricted the amount of mail that could be carried on routes and it was a little too quiet, often startling pedestrians.
General Motors hopes to generate consumer interest as the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles hit the road to deliver the mail.