- Hundreds of USPS delivery trucks were reported to catch fire in the past few years, a new report from Vice shows.
- The trucks are Grumman Long Life Vehicles and have a 24-year life expectancy. The last deliveries happened in 1994.
- The ageing fleet is just another problem the USPS faces, in addition to a dwindling budget and pandemic-related health issues.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When you think of a typical United States Postal Service delivery truck, you’re probably thinking of the Grumman Long Life Vehicle – the boxy thing with right-side steering wheels and driver’s seats so letter carriers can more easily access mailboxes. In recent years, however, hundreds of them caught fire – possibly due to age and a budget crisis, according to this new Vice story.
The LLVs were specially developed by Northrop Grumman for the USPS, per this 1997 report from the US Department of Energy. Based on a Chevrolet S-10 truck chassis, they are powered by Pontiac engines and use three-speed transmissions. They have a 1,000-pound cargo capacity and roughly a 24-year life expectancy. The LLVs have been in service since around 1987, with the last deliveries occurring in 1994.
Since May 2014, more than 407 LLVs sustained damage or destruction from fire, Vice reported via a Freedom of Information Act request. The outlet examined the 3,954-page document in regard to the fires (which you can view here; it’s a PDF that’s about 400 megabytes), and found that the two separate engineering firms hired to determine the cause of the fires were unable to really find a pattern.
The fires occurred in hot and cold climates, at the beginning and ends of shifts, in the battery compartments, dashboards, and fuel pumps, and in vehicles that had both been recently maintained and were overdue for a check-up. They occurred on rural routes and city streets all over the country. […]
Over the last six years, hardly a week went by without a mail truck catching on fire somewhere in the U.S. Many days saw multiple fires. On December 21, 2015, two LLVs were destroyed in fires, in Manchester, New Hampshire and Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. On June 13, 2016, three LLVs caught fire in Houston, Texas, Okeechobee, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. August 29 of that year saw three more LLVs catch fire, this time in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and Del Rio, Texas.
A USPS spokesperson told Business Insider that the USPS currently has more than 141,000 right-hand drive LLVs in its fleet. The person was “unable to provide information about injuries” but said that the agency implements mandatory maintenance schedules and preventative maintenance-inspection procedures for the existing fleet.
Vice pointed to a July 2015 newsletter from the National Association of Letter Carriers – the union that represents city-delivery letter carriers employed by the USPS – that warned members of the tendency of USPS fleet vehicles to catch fire as they aged and needed to be replaced.
An ageing delivery fleet is yet another problem the USPS faces, in addition to a dwindling budget and pandemic-related health issues.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed in 2006, requires the USPS to calculate and build a fund for covering pensions and healthcare over the subsequent 75 years. It – and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – are huge stressors on the agency’s finances. Business Insider reported in May that if funding doesn’t appear soon, the USPS could run out of money by the end of September.
It’s not clear if the USPS’s financial emergency is related to its trucks catching on fire, but they certainly coincide. A presentation from a USPS next-generation delivery-vehicle supplier conference in 2015 shows that the agency planned to deploy the new vehicles starting in January 2018, but Vice reported that “the USPS has yet to even decide on a vehicle.”
The USPS spokesperson told Business Insider that the agency had concluded testing the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle in March 2019. In December 2019, it had issued Requests for Proposals and would make a decision after “an evaluation of best value.”
The pandemic has disrupted that. “In light of the circumstances of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Postal Service and supplier operations, the Postal Service extended the due date for responses to the NGDV Production RFP to July 14, 2020,” the spokesperson wrote.
Vice noted that even with the fires, 26 investigator reports observed that letter carriers tried to rescue as much mail as they could from the burning trucks.
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