President Biden has made clear that he wants the federal government to procure clean and zero-emission vehicles, reiterated as part of his Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Late last week, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) along with 12 fellow Senators sent a letter to the President with recommendations on how best to drive federal electric vehicle (EV) procurement and adoption.
Senator Heinrich’s letter focuses on initial steps that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the General Services Association (GSA) can take to start the journey to fleet electrification. Let’s take a look at why it is especially important for the USPS to heed the call.
Electrification of the USPS Fleet
USPS operates a fleet of more than 200,000 vehicles across the United States and its territories. The vast majority of these vehicles, 163,000, are long-life vehicles (LLVs) that were purchased between 1987 and 2001. Due to the aging fleet, the USPS initiated a multi-year research program in 2016 to develop a Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) to replace the LLV.
The USPS fleet represents an ideal use case for electrification. Routes are relatively short at 10 to 30 miles per day and vehicles return to the same central location after each shift. This combination of factors would allow the USPS to economically and effectively deploy electric delivery trucks. Plus, the sheer size of the USPS fleet would provide economies of scale to further reduce upfront costs.
While the NGDV program is not yet completed, it is widely expected that USPS is considering gas-powered options that would lock the fleet into burning fuel for decades. Senator Heinrich’s letter calls for the USPS to issue a stop order on the program and to instead focus on vehicle electrification. Since the program began, more manufacturers of commercial electric vehicles have entered the marketplace. Other delivery providers like UPS and Amazon already have electric-vehicle partnerships in place with Arrival and Rivian, respectively. There is no reason for USPS to be looking backwards, and should instead commit to going electric.
Total Cost of Ownership Approach
As part of those considerations, Senator Heinrich’s letter also calls for federal agencies to utilize a total cost of ownership (TCO) approach to vehicle procurement. This analysis includes the purchase price along with operational costs over the vehicle’s lifetime. Gas-powered vehicles are more costly over time due to higher fuel and maintenance costs, but that can be overlooked without considering the full TCO implications. In 2019, the USPS consumed 195 million gallons of gasoline at a cost of nearly $500 million to fuel its trucks, more than any other civilian government agency.
Beyond the monetary cost to USPS, there is also a climate cost to such a large fleet of gasoline-powered vehicles. Their annual gasoline consumption reflects 1.9 million tons of carbon emissions each year. By fully considering TCO and including the social cost of carbon it is even more urgent and compelling for federal agencies to commit to fleet vehicle electrification.
A Model for Federal Leadership
ZETA’s Roadmap to 2030 Policy Platform includes strong federal leadership as one of six policy pillars. Specific policies include a federal vehicle electrification commitment that encourages the Postmaster General to reward vendors that offer electric vehicle procurement options.
The Administration and Congress – especially key appropriators – are on the same page and ZETA urges USPS leadership to take this Senate letter seriously. Many years (and miles) of vehicle operation are at stake and the agency has a unique opportunity to take a step forward and lead other fleet operators into a new era. Along with cleaner air, electrification of the federal fleet would help create jobs in every congressional district, secure American global EV manufacturing leadership, and improve public health. It’s time to move forward into a cleaner, brighter transportation future.