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Progress report on the Rural Route Engineer Study

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The redesign project cranked into high gear early in 2014 when several new high-profile projects were initiated by the Standards Panel consisting of NRLCA Representative, Ken Mericle, USPS Representative, Don Ratliff and the Neutral Chair, Louis Martin-Vega. The Panel has been working closely with IIE Solutions, a team of industrial engineers from the Institute of Industrial Engineering, on a series of projects to develop engineered standards for various work activities performed by rural carriers.  In 2013, these projects focused primarily on casing and handling parcels.  In 2014, the Panel initiated a project in 144 sites around the country to validate the casing and parcel standards.  Teams of engineers are currently traveling to these sites where they are conducting time studies of parcel handling and casing of all of the major mail streams. The Panel has also recently initiated a project to develop engineered standards for withdrawing mail; activities related to processing accountable mail, mark-ups and changes of address; and processing mail collected on route.

In March 2014, the USPS announced their choice of a new Mobile Delivery Device (MDD) to eventually replace all existing scanners.  The MDD is an advanced device with both scan and GPS capabilities.  Based on test results from USPS Engineering and Lockheed-Martin, the Panel concluded that the new MDD could be used in the development of driving standards and requested several thousand units from USPS.

The Panel has identified a sample of over 5,000 rural routes selected to be representative of all rural routes, and the MDDs and related equipment will be introduced on these sample routes over the next few months.  The devices will generate a rich stream of time-stamped latitude, longitude and other data that will ultimately be used to determine driving speeds on route segments.  Using this approach, the Panel will be able to base driving speeds on the actual physical characteristics of routes such as road surfaces, speed limits, traffic, number of lanes and distance between stops.  The new standard times for driving will reflect the conditions rural carriers actually face in driving their routes.

Another interesting use of technology is scheduled to begin this summer when mapping software will be introduced to create a comprehensive street database covering all rural routes.  This software will be used to map each rural route by tracing the route and identifying mail stops and traffic control stops. The procedure will be similar to using MapQuest or Google Maps to plot a road trip.  The Panel envisions a process where carriers and supervisors would jointly map the route and identify the stops with technical assistance when necessary.

The resulting street database will be used to classify all route segments on all rural routes.  Once the database is complete it will be possible to apply the standard speeds determined in the driving speed study to all rural routes and by adding segment times to determine total standard driving time on each route.  The Rural Street Database will also contain data that will be used to calculate standard time for trips to the customer’s door for delivery of large parcels and special service mail.

This next phase of the Redesign Project promises to engage thousands of rural carriers and USPS management representatives in direct hands-on involvement in the development of the standards.  Your input and cooperation are essential to the successful completion of the Project. I hope you find working with the new technologies to be interesting and enjoyable and I thank you for your participation in this important project.  As always, we will keep you posted about any new developments.

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