All across the U.S., the postman’s best friend; the USPS Long Life Vehicles, have been bursting into flames at an alarming rate. You know the trucks, they’re the square little delivery trucks with the right-side driver’s seat to make it easier for letter carriers to shove the mail into your mailbox. Since May 2014, there have been over 400 LLVs that have gone up in flames.
That’s one every five days according to an investigation done by Motherboard, Vice’s investigative group. Through the Freedom of Information Act, Motherboard obtained 4,000 pages of documents. It was made up of studies by two engineering firms the USPS hired to find the cause of the fires. The two firms were Trident Engineering and Rimkus Consulting Group. Those companies are bound by confidentiality clauses.
Over 100 burned mail trucks were too damaged to determine a cause
The USPS won’t release the firms to discuss their findings and won’t provide any information from multiple requests. It also won’t say whether there were injuries involved in the fires. It is a mystery inside of an enigma because over 100 of the burned trucks were too damaged to determine a cause. Of the remaining burned trucks, there was no evident pattern to the fires.
Location, time of shifts, where the fires started, maintained or non-maintained, in the country or metropolitan areas the fires had no discernable pattern. The only conclusion drawn is that the trucks are just too old. They’re deteriorating to the extent they give up and burst into flames while they’re being used. And, from testimony in the documents, 26 reports include scenarios where letter carriers dived back into burning trucks to remove as much mail as possible. Wow!
The Northrop Grumman-made trucks have a life expectancy of 24 years
According to a 2015 USPS presentation the Northrop Grumman-made LLVs were made to have a life expectancy of 24 years. The trucks in question were all built between 1987 and 1994. About 142,000 LLVs of this batch are still being used. So those trucks are 26-33 years old, which is past their expected years in service.
As far back as 2015, the National Association of Letter Carrier’s newsletter had a section devoted to the “Dangers of Melting USPS Vehicles.” The newsletter said, “USPS vehicles catching fire is becoming more frequent as the fleet ages and is in dire need of replacement. This is a very dangerous situation and union leadership must educate the membership and monitor management’s compliance with vehicle scheduled maintenance requirements.”
Since the mail truck fires are so prevalent, why doesn’t the Post Office replace them?
Almost every week since 2014, there is at least one fire. If it’s so prevalent, why doesn’t the Post Office just replace them all? Because since 2006, the USPS has been bound by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. It binds the USPS to set aside billions of dollars to pay for current and future healthcare for its workers. Now billions in the hole, it is on the verge of financial ruin if Congress doesn’t act.
There have been plans to replace the LLVs going back to 2011. If followed, trucks would have been phased out of service starting in 2017. As of now, there has been nothing done, not even choosing what type of vehicle will be the replacement. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Congress needs to act.