Postal fleets: What we can learn from the best!

There are reasons to believe that postal services need to have different tools in their toolbox, or put differently, a variety of vehicles in their fleet. Having an optimized toolbox could actually improve labor productivity by as much as 25%, while also helping to improve employee satisfaction, reduce carbon footprint and create a source of competitive advantage against the competition in the growing parcel market.

It is easy to separate between a hammer and a screwdriver. But how should postal companies separate their tools? Here are some common ways we have seen over the years: 

  • Vehicle categories (bike, trike, quad, van, truck) 
  • Volume (small, medium, large) 
  • Homologation or license categories (l3, l4, l5, l6, l7, n1 etc.) 

While there are often valid reasons for these types of criteria, they say little about their intended purpose. Again, we can refer to the carpenter. When filling his toolbox, it wouldn’t make sense to buy tools solely by size. He needs to also account for the purpose of the tools, and so do postal services. There is a common way to separate between tools for postal companies:  

  • Tools for transportation 
  • Tools for delivery 

Am I transporting or doing delivery?

This is an important and fundamental question. To select the right tools, you should define what you are doing. And it shouldn’t be too difficult to do so. If you haven’t already read about Norway Posts’ strategy, we recommend that you read it here. Or you can read about New Zealand Posts’ journey in this case study. 

But all in all, it is fairly simple. Some delivery routes will be characterized by more stops and fewer kilometers/miles traveled. Others will have relatively few stops, but many kilometers/miles traveled.  

If you have a short distance between stops, your workday will be characterized as delivery, and the driver should be equipped with tools that let him or her do delivery with high productivity.  

If you have a longer distance between stops (the example of a typical rural route), you are primarily doing transportation, and you are best equipped with a transporting tool.  

Transport tools

Transport vehicles are usually not designed for the highly repetitive delivery pattern typically found in urban and suburban delivery routes.  

In this category, we typically find vans or van-like alternatives with higher cargo volume capacities and a larger footprint. These vehicles have a more traditional build, with closed driver compartments, a standard seat and cockpit layout, and regular cargo space of 2 to 5 m3 in the rear.  

According to Buyacar.co.uk, modern vans and van-like alternatives are increasingly becoming available in all-electric alternatives too, making them ideal to decarbonize even some of the rural routes found in postal services.  

Their design and specification make them unbeatable for moving people and goods comfortably over longer distances with fewer stops.  

Ideally suited for: 

  • Rural routes require more transport than delivery
  • Filling of lockers / PUDOs 
  • Deliver large-format parcels not suited for delivery tools
  • Refilling Delivery-tools (if on a peak day) mid-route 

Delivery tools

On an aggregate level, the main difference is that tools in this category do frequent deliveries significantly faster than tools in the transportation category because they are built with the delivery workflow and process requirements in mind from the beginning.  

And since they are built for deliveries and not transportation, they should also provide optimal ergonomic support and reduce waste activities for operators.  

Routes with frequent deliveries are often carried out in urban or suburban areas where the density of households is higher relative to rural areas. Thus, to save time per stop vehicles tend to have a smaller footprint to navigate more efficiently compared to larger vans. A vehicle with a small footprint gives the following advantages:

  • They can perform extra narrow U-turns where a van or van-like alternative would normally need to reverse or park further away from the drop-off point.  
  • They will often find short-cuts not easily available for a van 
  • They can often navigate around roadblocks or other obstacles on the route.  
  • Their smaller size and friendly appearance increase public acceptance.  
  • They can usually park in small spaces and come closer to the drop-off point.  

Their size often makes them referred to as micro, and with their design being tailored for logistics, it is common that they are categorized as micro-logistics vehicles, or more commonly MLEVs if they are all-electric (as they should today). 

But advantages relative to conventional alternatives should not only come from being small and green but more importantly; how well they are designed for the delivery workflow. A properly designed MLEV should give the following benefits: 

  • Improved employee satisfaction 
  • Improved public acceptance 
  • Reduced particulate matter and Co2-emissions 
  • Perform core tasks 15-30% more efficiently, relative to transport alternatives, including loading.  
  • Reduce sick-leave rates by 5-15% 
  • Increase the overall capability of the delivery network, such as allowing for collection services.  
  • Reduced investment costs in infrastructure relative to conventional EVs.  

If you want to know more about the details that make MLEVs ideal for postal last mile, we have discussed them in detail here.  

Don’t mix them up!

Analogies can be a powerful way of illustrating points. Let’s think about fighter jets. They are highly effective combat aircraft, so they are being refueled mid-air by a tanker plane. Each plane has a specific purpose, and they are not interchangeable – for a reason. In a similar manner, some types of vehicles are suitable for transporting, while others are best when they do deliveries.  

Many postal services are uncertain about MLEVs in suburban and urban routes due to their physical size and cargo volume. Choosing MLEVs goes against the “safe path” that traditional vans or car-like alternatives with higher capacities offer. But the reality is that postal services should consider to re-think the delivery strategy like carpenters have done. Because, even if you need to refill a nailgun magazine several times per day, you save significant time overall.

What we have learned from the best, is a solid focus on letting transport tools do transportation, and delivery tools do delivery, even if it means spending 30 minutes going back for a refill during the day on peak days. Because when implemented correctly, you will still save at least one hour that day compared to a van or car-like alternative, and good strategies can be put in place to manage peak days and variation. 

Related stories:

Stay in the loop: