Lawsuit could delay replacement for aging postal fleet

Aug 10, 2021, 4:27 PM | Updated: Aug 11, 2021, 2:57 pm

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Postal workers thrilled at the prospect of making deliveries in modern, comfortable and environmentally friendly vehicles are soldiering on in their aging, spartan trucks.

The primary fleet of vehicles — dating to 1987 — was due to be replaced under a new contract but the winning bid for the new trucks is being challenged. That means the delivery of new trucks set for 2023 could be delayed.

“The longer this drags on, the more lives are at risk,” said John Graham, a postal carrier who operates one of the old vehicles in Portland, Maine.

Most workers don’t care which model they get. They just want something that’s safe.

More than 150 of the current vehicles have caught fire. They lack adequate heating and cooling, they deliver poor fuel economy and they’re becoming difficult to maintain.

The Grumman Long Life Vehicle delivered on its name. They went into service from 1987 to 1994 with a promise of a 24-year service life. The oldest of them have survived about 34 years of grueling use on the daily mail routes from snowy Maine to sunny California.

Most postal carriers will tell you they weren’t so great even in their prime.

They’re built on a General Motors chassis with a body provided by Grumman and they’re powered by a four-cylinder engine that was supposed to deliver fuel economy — but in reality provides about 9 miles per gallon (4 kilometers per liter) on stop-and-go routes. Missing are modern safety features like airbags and anti-lock brakes.

A glaring fault in Maine’s cold winters is inadequate heating.

Even worse is the lack of air conditioning that allows temperatures to soar to dangerous levels inside the vehicles on hot summer days. A postal worker died from a heat stroke earlier this summer during a heat wave in California.

Fires have become a frequent hazard. The Postal Times keeps a running tally along with photos on its website. There were 19 of them so far this year, including five in July.

In Florida, Kathleen Shunstrom witnessed one of them going up in flames. She opened her blinds to see her local carrier’s postal truck ablaze in her neighbor’s driveway in Niceville, on the Florida Panhandle.

The carrier noticed her vehicle was smoking after delivering a package. By the time someone dialed 911, it had burst into flames. No one was hurt.

“It was scary to see,” said Shunstrom, who captured video of the flames on July 24 on her cellphone. “It went up so fast.”

The U.S. Postal Service has more than 230,000 vehicles. That includes 190,000 local delivery vehicles, and more than 141,000 of those are Grumman LLVs, said USPS spokesperson Kim Frum.

“The current delivery fleet has reached a critical point where it is no longer cost-effective to maintain the fleet in order to provide reliable and efficient delivery service for citizens while meeting the needs of carriers,” Frum said.

A competitive bid process was supposed to mark a turning point.

Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense won the bid in February for the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle with the first deliveries set for late 2023.

It’s a greener vehicle with modern amenities like climate control and safety features like air bags, backup cameras and collision avoidance. The trucks are also taller to make it easier for postal carriers to grab packages and parcels that have been making up a far greater portion of their deliveries, even before the pandemic.

But a losing bidder, an Ohio company called Workhorse Group, challenged the fairness of the decision in June.

There’s no deadline for protest decisions, but research suggests that contract challenges generally take about four to five months from filing to decision, according to David Ralston and Frank Murray, Washington-based attorneys from Foley & Lardner LLP.

The initial contract for Oshkosh Defense was for $482 million for completing and testing the final design, and retooling and building out its factory to produce gas and electric versions. But the value could stretch into billions of dollars if Oshkosh delivers 165,000 vehicles over the next decade. Workhorse Group put the total contract value at up to $3.1 billion in its contract challenge.

With so much money at stake, it’s possible that any decision could go to the Court of Appeals, which would extend the timetable even further out. For now, Oshkosh is continuing to get started even as the challenge plays out.

Oshkosh Defense, which proposed a mix of gas and electric trucks, and Workhorse, which proposed an all-electric fleet, declined comment.

In Portland, Graham knows his vehicle fairly well. The rear-wheel drive vehicles spin around in icy conditions, so he knows to be careful. They reek of exhaust fumes. The transmission sometimes slips out of gear.

But the big complaint now, in the summer, is the heat. There’s a fan on the dashboard but that doesn’t cool things down much.

Graham said that during the summer he throws his lunch on the dashboard at mid-morning. “It’ll be steaming hot by lunchtime,” he said.

___

This story has been updated to correct the brand of chassis used in the Grumman LLV. It is a General Motors chassis, not a Ford chassis.

Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Greece: Schools closed following quake in rare spot

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities have ordered school closures following a magnitude 4.8 earthquake that struck an area in southern Greece where seismic activity is rare. The quake, east of the island of Evia, occurred at 6:32 a.m. Tuesday, 58 kilometers (36 miles) northeast of Athens and was felt in the Greek capital, but caused […]
1 day ago
A driver waits in a traffic jam in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletk...
Associated Press

Uneasy calm grips Ukraine as West prepares winter aid

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An uneasy calm hung over Kyiv on Tuesday as residents of the Ukrainian capital did what they could to prepare for anticipated Russian missile attacks aiming to take out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in. To ease that pain, NATO allies were making plans to boost provisions of anything from […]
1 day ago
FILE - A worker in protective suit walks through the caution tapes along metal barricades retail sh...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Why are China’s COVID rules so strict?

BEIJING (AP) — At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China set out its “zero-COVID” measures that were harsh, but not out of line with what many other countries were doing to try and contain the virus. While most other nations saw the health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines were widely available, however, […]
1 day ago
In this photo provided by Fidelity Charitable, Fidelity Charitable President Jacob Pruitt is photog...
Associated Press

Fidelity Charitable: New grants to surpass deposits in 2022

Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker, expects 2022 will be the first year since 2018 that the value of grants from its donor advised funds exceeds the value of investments going into the funds. Jacob Pruitt, Fidelity Charitable’s president, told The Associated Press that donations this year are on track to set a record, even […]
1 day ago
FILE - Workers walk to the Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar, Fr...
Associated Press

Qatar says worker deaths for World Cup ‘between 400 and 500’

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A top Qatari official involved in the country’s World Cup organization has put the number of worker deaths for the tournament “between 400 and 500” for the first time, a drastically higher number than any other previously offered by Doha. The comment by Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee […]
1 day ago
This photograph released by Indian government's Press Information Bureau shows Israel filmmaker and...
Associated Press

Israel filmmaker’s comment on Kashmir film stoke controversy

NEW DELHI (AP) — Israel’s envoy to India on Tuesday denounced a filmmaker from his country after he called a blockbuster Bollywood film on disputed Kashmir a “propaganda” and “vulgar movie” at a film festival, stoking a debate about recent history that fuels the ongoing conflict. Naor Gilon, Israel’s ambassador to India, said he was […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
Lawsuit could delay replacement for aging postal fleet