“Local Transportation Optimization” Impacts Service

Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and in conformance with his 10-Year Plan, the Postal Service has obsessively pursued measures to fill trucks and reduce transportation, all in the name of “efficiency.”

Initially called “Optimized Collections,” but since renamed the “Local Transportation Optimization,” the initiative’s objective is the same: run only one trip from the processing facility to local post offices in the morning to drop off the day’s deliveries, and eliminate the afternoon trip that would have returned the day’s retail and collection mail to the plant for outbound processing. (Under a “hybrid” version, rather than a truck stopping at post office along a loop path, the truck turns around at the end of a run and stops at the same facilities on its way back to the plant, though that still may be too early to get most of a day’s retail and collection volume.)

Unfortunately for postal customers, not only is this campaign being prosecuted regardless of the consequences on service, but the agency is presenting it as a positive benefit to customers because it is “aligning our dispatches to our current service standards.” It’s an almost perverse approach: first, reduce service standards; then implement cost reduction measures to take advantage of the lower service performance requirement; and, finally, spin the result as a creditable effort to become more “efficient.”  Reference to the impact on service is avoided.

The latest area to suffer from “efficiency” is the state of Oregon.  Generally concurrent with the opening of the new Portland Regional Processing and Distribution Center (and co-located Local Processing center), and the conversion of existing processing facilities in Eugene and Medford to Local Processing Centers, the USPS implemented its “optimization” of local transportation.  The 225 “optimized” (full or hybrid) post offices are mostly small facilities located in rural areas and more than fifty miles from the LPC.


In an internal presentation to managers in Oregon, the USPS stated the “business impact” included “reduction in cost,” “earlier processing times,” and “increase cube,” i.e., fuller trucks.  The impact on service was not mentioned. As would be expected given DeJoy’s desire to control the message, attendees were told “Do NOT respond to any media inquiries” and “Do NOT talk to the drivers about the project.”  The service talk to be given to employees also reflected a disingenuous spin on the situation:

“Now in the third year of the [10-Year] plan, the Postal Service is continuously transforming and strengthening our business model.  Part of the transformation involves improving our transportation network efficiency – including a change at this office to optimize our process for outbound mail. … Customer service will not be impacted with this change and remains aligned to meet product service standards.”

The previously decreased service standards again are used to enable real reductions in service.  Similarly, the message to be given customers reflects the Postal Service’s self-centered focus on efficiency and the assertion that the reduced collection schedule will “improve customer service with greater reliability and improved efficiencies.” Arguably, customers might find the consistent delay for outgoing retail and collection mail not a desirable form of improved customer service or “greater reliability,” nor would they be likely to happily accept the decreased service so the USPS can enjoy “improved efficiencies.”

As noted in a report by Save the Post Office, the initiative so far has been implemented at 717 post offices in Arizona, California, Georgia, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin. “Over the next seven months, the initiative will be implemented at post offices served by 180 processing centers.  By September, something on the order of 12,000 to 14,000 of the country’s 31,000 post offices will not get an evening collection.”

Election mail

Many postal observers recall the kerfuffle preceding the 2020 elections when the PMG was accused of trying to subvert voting by mail.  His 2020 directives to eliminate extra trips and get scheduled transportation running on time quickly led to complaints about mail delays and, in turn, suspicions that DeJoy’s political connections were behind what he was doing. As the 2024 election season approaches, the impact of “Local Transportation Optimization” is fueling renewed concerns about potential delays in balloting by mail.  As Save the Post Office reported:

“At a town hall last week in Virginia, elected officials heard from their constituents about the problems they’re experiencing with getting their mail.  (The Postal Service declined an invitation to attend.)  While there are many causes to the postal problems in Virginia, it’s also the first place where the LTO initiative was rolled out back in October. …

“At the town hall, Keith Balmer, General Registrar of Virginia, delivered a speech warning people not to use the Postal Service to vote: ‘It’s imperative,’ said Balmer, ‘that we safeguard our democratic process, and in light of the challenges posed by USPS’s delivery failures, I urge all voters who have requested or received an absentee ballot for the current Presidential Primary to consider alternative methods of submission.’ …

“The LTO initiative will be particularly problematic when it comes to election mail.  Oregon and Washington are both vote-by-mail states where the date of the postmark is critical.

“To ensure that a ballot gets a postmark, the voter needs to ask for it at the post office window.  Otherwise, a postmark won’t be applied until the mail piece is scanned at the processing center.  That’s normally occurs on the same day so it’s not an issue, but with the LTO initiative, the scan won’t occur until the next day.

“As of July 2022, there were nineteen states that accept and count a mailed ballot if it is received after Election Day but postmarked on or before (sometimes only before) Election Day.  Many states will also accept an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) as evidence when the ballot was sent, but with LTO, that barcode may not be scanned until the day after the ballot was mailed.

“The voting-eligible population of Oregon is about 3.2 million.  The population of the ZIP codes in Oregon losing their end-of-day collection – and the same-day postmark – is about 680,000, of which about 540,000 are old enough to vote.  That’s about one in six of the eligible voters in the state.

“In other states, a ballot must be received by Election Day, so the postmark may not be an issue, but not collecting the mail until the next day might cause ballots to arrive too late.  That problem will be compounded by the consolidation plan now underway, which will cause local mail to be sent to a regional processing center, often hundreds of miles away, adding to delays.”

Though there’s a canned response to customers who ask, it’s unlikely that customers (e.g., voters) are being proactively informed of the potential for delays because of the Local Transportation Optimization program – meaning they’re unaware that their ballots might not be collected or processed in time to be counted. Like other service consequences, the potential impact on voting by mail has not been visibly acknowledged by the Postal Service.  Rather, the myopic pursuit of full trucks and “efficiency” is all that matters to the PMG and his insular team of cronies from his previous businesses.

External review

Fortunately for DeJoy et al, the two authorities that could limit or derail the optimization plan aren’t up to the job.

Though politicians in impacted areas have raised dust over the Postal Service’s actions, whatever they’ve said in letters to the PMG, at public meetings, or in the media was designed for constituents’ consumption.  The likelihood is zero that anything substantive will be done through Congressional action – and DeJoy knows that.

Similarly, though the Postal Regulatory Commission can drag information out of the USPS about its optimization efforts, it’s powerless to halt or deflect them.  Even if – as some argue it should – the commission were to conclude that the Local Transportation Optimization process constitutes a “nationwide change in service” that, in turn, requires the Postal Service to seek and advisory opinion from the PRC prior to its implementation, the commission’s findings would be advisory and would not inhibit the USPS in any way.  DeJoy’s Postal Service has been made to seek such opinions in the past and has implemented whatever it had planned anyway, totally ignoring the PRC’s advice.

For example, as part of its ongoing “inquiry” into the PMG’s 10-Year Plan, the PRC had issued a “chairman’s information request” on December 20 seeking additional information about the Postal Service’s ongoing revisions to its processing and delivery networks.  On January 2, the USPS moved that the request be withdrawn, arguing that it was “unaware of a legitimate or regulatory basis for the information requested” and that the request “exceeds the bounds of the docket and the Commission’s authority.”

On February 22, the PRC denied the motion, stating, in part:

“Seeking information regarding cost or service estimates and the underlying assumptions is an appropriate use of the Commission’s oversight authority.  Likewise, the Postal Service’s recent and planned changes could have impacts on workshare, service performance measurement, and potential disparate treatment for varying stakeholders, all of which involve the potential for the Commission to exercise appropriate oversight.”

On February 29, the USPS moved for a two-week extension of time to respond to the information request, contending that, basically, it’s really busy and gathering the requested information will take time and resources.

A matter of perspectives

Whether regarding rates or processing networks, the PMG’s approach to running the USPS over the past nearly four years has been to focus on transportation – his professional background – and the need for the USPS to be “self-supporting.”

Though the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act expected the USPS to be supported by ratepayers, it did not set financial self-sufficiency above the fundamental provision of service:

“In determining all policies for postal services, the Postal Service shall give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.” [39 USC 101(e)]

Assuring full trucks or a self-serving emphasis on “efficiency” weren’t included.  The then-new agency was established to provide service, but that’s apparently not the perspective from which the PMG chooses to interpret the law.

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