DSC_3757Yup, went through Minneapolis 554 Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) on January 3rd, disappeared for most of the month, then got shipped out of 553 (western suburbs of Minneapolis) on the 30th and was finally delivered here in 34114 (eastern suburbs of Naples) on February 5th! Yup, a month and a couple of days to cross barely half the country… The Pony Express could have beat that! What the heck has happened to the world’s best Postal Service?

I’ve worked for both Hostess and the Postal Service, and their lives and declines were quite similar. Heck, Hostess even appears to have sized their bread and cake and the “enrobed” cartons they shipped it in to fit in the same Railway Post Office spaces as letters in “sleeves”. Both were capital intensive low margin businesses, and both are a easier and cheaper to fix than to shut down. To give an example, over two years after the Hostess bankruptcy, the administrators still haven’t been able to track down all of Hostess thousands of trucks and trailers, never mind all of the hundred thousand shelves on wheels (“racks”) that were used to carry bread and cake on those trucks and trailers. The Postal equivalent of a “rack” is an “All Purpose Carrier” (“APC”) and they’re like a rack that died and went to heaven, and if the Postal Service goes bankrupt they’ll probably go for scrap metal prices too… If they ever find them all.

Which explains why whole industries of scrappers, salvagers, and similar corporate vultures as well as Fed Ex and UPS’s lobbyists would just as soon see the Postal Service laid bare for the taking in bankruptcy court. They’re being assisted by Postal execs who exemplify the “Peter Principle”, and have long since been promoted above the low limits of their ability. Thus we find a nationwide network of world class mail sorting centers being gutted, because said “in over their head” postal execs think they should be closed and the mail hauled hundreds of miles away to other centers because the sorting centers aren’t being “utilized” dang near 24 hours a day. This managerial brilliance results in mail taking days longer to arrive, while the abandoned sorting centers sit idle and deteriorating, because there’s little market for million dollar mail sorting machines. Thus a recent First Class lettered mailed in Sarasota took five days to travel the mere hundred miles to Naples, probably passing closed sorting centers and making it’s way via Tampa, and maybe Orlando and Miami too.

Maybe spent some time on a broken down truck, too… As the bankruptcy was filed, Hostess’ average truck was 18 years old, and with rare exceptions the newest trucks were 2004 models. The Postal Service last bought new big trucks and trailers in 2006, and some of them get worked near 24 hours a day and are overdue for replacement. And like Hostess, the Postal Service is expensively supplementing it’s fleet with rentals, though at least they signed a cheaper long term contract instead of the daily rental rates that helped bleed Hostess to death. It get’s worse… You know those little step van “Long Life Vehicles” (“LLVs”)?  The first number of an LLV’s fleet number is the year it was built, if it’s a “7” you’re looking at a first year ’87 model, now 28 years old, If it’s a “4”, it’s a ’94, the last year they were built. The Postal Service has more LLVs than just about anything else with wheels and a motor, which means the the 24 year average age of the LLVs is pretty much the average fleet age. The LLV was designed to last 24 years, and those same postal execs have decreed that they’ll now last 30 years. And despite the years long process required to design and tool up a replacement, the Postal Service ain’t even started on the project. That means Postal Service mechanics are taking on expensive tasks like replacing rusted out frames, which is essentially dismantling and then assembling a new vehicle, without benefit of an assembly line. Cost? About the same as a new loaded minivan!

Now granted, much of the Postal Service’s red ink is the result of some downright dirty requirements that the Postal Service fully fund their employee’s retirement health care, ON THE DAY THE EMPLOYEE IS HIRED. But self inflicted wounds like Postal Service (mis)management’s logistics looniness don’t help any. Worse yet, the cuts in service standards drive away business- Mail forwarding is now so unreliable and unpredictable that I’m now forced to do all my financial transactions online so I can be assured of getting statements by tax time… Otherwise I’d have to endure a Florida summer to wait for all my winter mail to got here! And given that the Work Truck Show has made the mistake of giving me a press pass entitling me to the best free lunch Indianapolis Convention Center’s commissary can provide and lesser perks, courtesy of Ford, I dang well intend to be in Indy before the show packs up on March 6th instead of waiting for waylaid mail in Florida!

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