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A Blue-Sky Idea For the USPS — Postal Trucks As Sensors

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the also-datamining-for-amazon-gifts-ideas dept.

Businesses 252

An anonymous reader writes "The US Postal Service may face insolvency by 2011 (it lost $8.5 billion last year). An op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times proposes an interesting business idea for the Postal Service: use postal trucks as a giant fleet of mobile sensor platforms. [Registration-required link; this no-reg summary encapsulates the idea, as does this paper by the same author.] (Think Google Streetview on steroids.) The trucks could be outfitted with a variety of sensors (security, environmental, RF ...) and paid for by businesses. The article's author addresses some of the obvious privacy concerns that arise."

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Uhm... (0)

Nailer235 (1822054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610378)

So the solution to excess spending is to outfit every single vehicle with expensive sensors to take an excessive amount of unnecessary measurements?

Re:Uhm... (1)

sking (42926) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610440)

I think the idea seeks to solve the problem of falling revenue. Selling data collected by sensors could be a potential revenue stream.

Re:Uhm... (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611006)

Then some *private* company is welcome to build a fleet of sensors and sell the data.

Re:Uhm... (1)

Red_Chaos1 (95148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610482)

Nothing in the summary states this would be the case. Let the other govt agencies and entities pay for these sensors in return for the data. They'd pay the USPS for allowing the devices to be on the vehicles in the first place. The USPS pays nothing, and makes a little extra cash on the side.

Insilvent? So what? (4, Insightful)

migla (1099771) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610400)

What are they gonna do? Dismantle the postal service? Just consider it infrastructure and pay for any loss from taxes. Surely the people of the US don't want to be without a postal service?

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610434)

Surely the people of the US don't want to be without a postal service?

False Dilemma [wikipedia.org]

Re:Insilvent? So what? (5, Insightful)

segedunum (883035) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610786)

I see a lot of people roll out the usual Milton Friedman 'Privatise it!' option to everything, but I'm afraid that a lot of private delivery firms just do not see it as cost effective to deliver to a lot of, mainly rural, areas. It's the same thing here in the UK with the Royal Mail. No matter how much anyone talks about privatisation you can always bet that there will be government subsidies needed to fill the gap needed, because you can't have a functioning economy and communities without some kind of postal service unless you tell everyone to move to areas that delivery firms find cost effective. I can't see that being an option.

When you subsidise private firms to provide a service they don't really want to provide then you get something far worse than anything the government could run itself. It simply doesn't work.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (-1, Flamebait)

Threni (635302) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611004)

I'm in the UK and post prices are going to rise to 46p per stamp soon. I don't care about rural areas. You pay less for property and goods in those areas, so if you have to pay extra for stuff like mail and broadband or whatever then factor it in - I've no interest in subsidizing you! Where's my interest in saving you some money?

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611154)

>rural areas. You pay less for property and goods in those areas

In fact, goods cost more out here in Hooterville. Transportation to get the goods here costs more and lower sales volume means more overhead per item sold. That said, cut me back to once a mail week delivery, cut out Saturdays, whatever. Anything of substance I order comes via UPS or Fedex anyway. I can live without any government sponsored mail delivery at all if I have to.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (4, Insightful)

jrumney (197329) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611180)

Where's my interest in saving you some money?

Food prices.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611560)

And why should rural areas get 'good mail service'.
This is the same problem we face with telecommunications. Some people expect rural areas to have the same telecom ability as dense urban cores.

I'm not saying urban life is better than rural life... but there are costs to each.
Live in the city and you get good mail service, good telecom, good restaurants... but you have to deal with traffic, high home prices, crime...
Live in rural areas and you get cheap housing, clean air, peace, nature... but you have to deal with poor telecom, poor mail service...

Maybe it is only reasonable to expect rural mail service once in every 2 weeks and it costs a bit more.
So be it.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610448)

Privatize it. UPS didn't lose $8.5 billion, it made $2.15 billion in profit.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610474)

USPS already adopted the "run government like a business" philosophy.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (3, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610504)

That doesn't work because it's not their money. People run things far more efficiently when it's their money or their bosses money on the line, rather than "everybody's" (i.e nobody's) money.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610708)

People run things far more efficiently when it's their money or their bosses money on the line, rather than "everybody's" (i.e nobody's) money.

[citation needed]
I'd believe without evidence that people tend to be more careful with their money, that makes sense as it affects their lives directly, but I don't see how someone would care if the company's profits goes to their boss, shareholders, or government.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610762)

You screw up the company, it dies, and you no longer get paid. You do poorly, you get fires, you don't get paid. There's all the motivation there.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611110)

You screw up the country, it dies and you no longer get paid. You do poorly, you get fires [sic], you don't get paid.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610854)

Never worked for the government, eh? Getting fired from a civil service job is almost impossible. You pretty much have to do something like set the place on fire or shoot up your co-workers before they'll fire you.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (3, Insightful)

edumacator (910819) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611462)

Right. And then they would say, I'm not going to spend my money delivering to those people out in the country. The postal service has the responsibility to deliver to every region of the country. A private company doesn't have the same responsibility. We could make it a prerequisite for whoever wins the contract, but then they would raise the prices significantly.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610500)

UPS won't send a postcard from Alaska to Florida for 28 cents, either.

Not saying good or bad - it's just a different kind of service.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (3, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610562)

UPS won't send a postcard from Alaska to Florida for 28 cents, either.
 
You don't know that because right now they are forbidden by law to do so.

What is the real cost of sending that postcard? Of course if you carried just that one postcard by a special flight it would be thousands of dollars, but that's not how it works. A better question is what is the cost of delivering all the postcards in the US divided by the number of postcards? In any case, the real cost of something is the real cost, it can't be avoided. If it costs 48c to send that postcard you can't magically make it 28c by regulation. The cost is just shifted somewhere else, it still has to be paid by someone.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610928)

You don't know that because right now they are forbidden by law to do so.

No they aren't. You're thinking of the laws relating stamps or postage. Not all postcards are postage paid. There is nothing stopping UPS or FedEx or [your-favorite-carrier-here] from delivering postcards to your door (they can't, by law, put things in your mailbox). They simply don't do it because they don't see any profit in it.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610940)

BTW--if you stick the postcard -- or anything else -- in one of their "express letter"-type envelopes, they'll ship it for one price. Anything that fits in that envelope costs the same.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610996)

In any case, the real cost of something is the real cost, it can't be avoided. If it costs 48c to send that postcard you can't magically make it 28c by regulation. The cost is just shifted somewhere else, it still has to be paid by someone.

True, but it's much like the situation with "Unlimited" ISPs. You've got folks that pull down multiple gigabytes per month, and some that use a fraction of that. The single flat price makes it convenient enough to be worth it.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (5, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610598)

Hell no. America has an amazingly secure post system. You rarely have mail stolen (an enforced Federal Crime, USPS have Postal Inspectors that are very good at their job and I say this with personal experience). I know privatized systems in other countries -- THEY SUCK. Stolen packages, no accounting (everyone passes the buck, etc) while Postal workers are people THAT will most likely work there next year, with a good benefits, and do care if they lose their job or pension.

Cut some service, close down some unnecessary offices (I know a few miles from each other) and do some other tweaks. But the PO is Constitutionally mandated service, and it's ridiculous to get rid of it when all it needs are tweaks.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (5, Interesting)

tyen (17399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610644)

You rarely have mail stolen...

This should be emphasized. I visited a gold mine in the US once. Was astounded when they told us they mail their raw ingots (that contain gold, silver and platinum all mixed together) to their refiner by USPS. They matter-of-factly told us that only USPS had the kind of government-force-backed security and guarantees that made transporting around >$100K bars every day feasible.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (4, Informative)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610672)

The jewelry industry uses registered mail for the same purpose.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (5, Informative)

crunchygranola (1954152) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610864)

You rarely have mail stolen...

This should be emphasized....

And the government sends secret documents [navy.mil] by the U.S. Postal Service.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611036)

+1 informative. The document linked by the parent is very interesting.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

zellfaze (1884982) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610902)

The courts also use the postal service. It is indeed the best way to move things. You can get in a lot of trouble for trying to screw with other people's mail.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (3, Interesting)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611020)

Perhaps that's part of the problem with USPS: a vastly over-the-top type of service -- it can hardly be cheap. I do understand that such service is good to have, but it should come at a hefty price. I presume that plenty of private companies would be glad to ship $100K bars around for 1% of their value. USPS can't profitably offer that service for anything less, yet they do precisely that. All that government-backed-security costs lots of money. It's not free just because it's law, enforcement costs real dollars.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610668)

Citation needed. From personal experience just in the last year, I've had my mail stolen once, I received other people's mail several times and I failed to receive some mail that I know was sent - probably delivered wrongly to god knows whom. Meanwhile, going to the post office is one of the most dreaded things for me because it ALWAYS means waiting in line for at least an hour and dealing with employees there who are understaffed, overwhelmed by the number of angry customers, demoralized and rude. I can't think of a private business that has the same problems.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

MokuMokuRyoushi (1701196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610810)

I've had the opposite experience. The local USPS workers are pretty friendly, prompt on the job, and the only time they've misplaced my mail was a special scenario(to my business address; the new postal guy didn't know that my mailbox was no longer in use, long story). That said, I work from a small town where they wouldn't be overwhelmed easily. I'm guessing you're in a more metro area, and so I think it's understandable(though still a problem) that the workers would be demoralized or quicker to anger if they themselves were surrounded by angry people.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611024)

ever been to best buy?

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

S1ngularity (1635987) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610806)

Article I, Section 8, clause 7: "to establish post offices and post roads" It is specifically listed as a power that the congress is allowed to exercise. However is says nothing about it being mandated to. Nor who runs and provides services in those offices or on those roads.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

chapstercni (238462) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611082)

Sorry. The PO is NOT Constitutionally MANDATED.
Congress is constutionally authorized to exercise an OPTION to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.

"Article 1 - Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To...;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;"

This would be different if the statement were something like: "Congress SHALL establish Post Offices and Post Roads."

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

Lumbre (1822486) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611384)

You rarely have mail stolen

A few times throughout the year, I find that I either receive a neighbor's mail by accident or someone else receives one of my bills, addressed correctly. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but what if one of your neighbors keeps it or operates ID theft?

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610642)

The brokerage fees UPS charges are insane. And don't even try to file the customs paperwork yourself. UPS deliberately makes it as hard as they possibly can for you to do so.

When I buy on ebay, it's USPS or nothing.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (3, Insightful)

transami (202700) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610742)

The only reason they are loosing money is b/c Congress won't let them raise prices to what they need to be. Look at the USPS 2009 annual report, the first page brags about being the cheapest postal service in the world. So is it any wonder they are loosing money? If they raised the price of a stamp just 5 cents they'd be in the black again.

No doubt, lobbyists from Fedex and UPS are paying off our politicians to sabotage the USPS. First they will get rid of Saturday delivery, which, contrary to the stated reasons for it, will actually further erode their bottom line. That will ultimately lead to full privatization. Shortly after that happens expect the cost of mailing a letter to quickly approach 10 times of what it costs today in order to pay massive executive bonuses and shareholder dividends.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2, Interesting)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610826)

Psychologists should be writing books about this kind of thinking, it really is something and it is so common as well. Let me rephrase what you just said so it's more clear: Government causes trouble, in this case by not allowing USPS to raise rates to a realistic level. Why is that so? Presumably out of some misguided altruistic motives, so that poor people can afford to send mail etc or at least because that way it appears that they care more about the poor and all that crap, but lets assume for a moment that you are correct and it is because they are bribed by the businesses. Where is the real problem? With the fact that the government officials accept bribes or with the businessmen who bribe them? Lets say the government has the power to affect business in a dramatic way through regulation (as it does), it is corrupt (it is) and it is willing to accept bribes to help one company or another. If you are an honest businessman who refuses to pay bribes (like Rearden in Atlas Shrugged) you will pretty soon be buried by your competitors who reap all the advantages of having powerful politicians on their side. Pretty soon there will be no more businessmen who are honest because the environment created by the government power makes that impossible.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611474)

No, not five cents, damnit.

They should raise postage rates to the next highest five cents, and then raise them again by five cents when those get too low.

The idiotic 'raise them random amounts' is part of what's reducing the amount of stuff people mail. First class letters should always be a multiple of 5 cents, so you just throw another 5 cents on there if they raised the rate.

Which means the next rate raise should be to 50 cents, because it's 44 cents right now.

In fact, all rates should be a multiple of five cents. Mailing a DVD? Pre-stamped envelope should cost 85 cents or whatever. Postcard? 30 cents. Even the weight tables for stuff should be rounded up.

The only time it should be anything else is stuff like bulk rates, which are not done via stamps.

And at some point, they should entirely get rid of any stamps lower than 5 cents. They should have 5 cent stamps, 1 dollar stamps, and whatever-amount-the-first-class-rate-is stamp. Maybe a 25 also, I dunno. Maybe a 90 cent stamp for the large envelope base rate.

I'm not trying to say what they can and can't do, but at some point the entire thing got out of control...do we really need 1 cent stamps? 2 cent stamps? 8 cent stamps? Just operate the entire postal system in increments of 5 cents, and stop wasting everyone's time. (It's worth mentioning the retail universe operates in increments of 10 at the minimum. All items at a store will either end in 5 cents or 9 cents, depending on the store, and most items over five dollars end in either 95 or 99.)

Otherwise, yes, I entirely agree with your post. The USPS is the cheapest postal service, and incredibly efficient, and I'm sure FedEx and UPS would really like them to stop.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611450)

It kinda already is; the USPS is ran separately from any Federal Agency. Other than the 20% share owned by the Federal Government, they have no real oversight...

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

jrobot (1239050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610484)

Postal Employee: "May I help you?"
Kramer: "Yeah, I'd like to cancel my mail."
Postal Employee: "Certainly. How long would you like us to hold it?"
Kramer: "Oh, no, no. I don't think you get me. I want out, permanently."
Newman: "I'll handle this, Violet. Why don't you take your three hour break?
Oh, calm down, everyone. No one's cancelling any mail."
Kramer: "Oh, yes, I am."
Newman: "What about your bills?"
Kramer: "The bank can pay 'em."
Newman: "The bank. What about your cards and letters?"
Kramer: "E-mail, telephones, fax machines. Fedex, telex, telegrams,
holograms."
Newman: "All right, it's true! Of course nobody needs mail. What do you
think, you're so clever for figuring that out? But you don't know the half of
what goes on here. So just walk away, Kramer. I beg of you."
Supervisor: "Is everything all right here, Postal Employee Newman?"
Newman: "Yes, sir, I believe everything is all squared away. Isn't it, Mr.
Kramer?"
Kramer: "Oh, yeah. As long as I stop getting mail!"

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610726)

Maybe the reason for all this loss is the time they drove the empty bottles to Michigan.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bottle_Deposit_%28Seinfeld%29

Re:Insilvent? So what? (0)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610496)

The postal service is going to be insolvent because the service they provide isn't worth the cost. If it was, people would pay a higher price for it. At the time that the constitution was written, it was pretty much the state of the art communication channel and it made some sense for it to be singled out as necessary along with post roads etc. Today, things are different. Most people don't use snail mail to communicate so it doesn't make sense to keep it the way it is. The modern day equivalent of the postal service's role in the late 1700's is broadband last mile infrastructure.

Letter volume? What letter volume? (2)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610540)

The postal service is going to be insolvent because the service they provide isn't worth the cost. If it was, people would pay a higher price for it. At the time that the constitution was written, it was pretty much the state of the art communication channel and it made some sense for it to be singled out as necessary along with post roads etc. Today, things are different. Most people don't use snail mail to communicate so it doesn't make sense to keep it the way it is. The modern day equivalent of the postal service's role in the late 1700's is broadband last mile infrastructure.

A few years back in the employ of one of the big-5 consultancies, I proposed a virtual post office box system for Australia Post. Nice option for the user, a single PO box that just had a permanent re-direct to wherever the person lived at the moment. Proposal got all the way up to the exec.

"Great idea! But letter volume has gone down the toilet. Thank you for coming."

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610542)

But how will I heat my house without all of the junk mail they bring me?

Re:Insilvent? So what? (2)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610640)

Surely the people of the US don't want to be without a postal service?

Is it really that big of a deal?

  • Junk mail - Finally we can get rid of this.
  • Post cards - Sad to lose, but not really the government's problem.
  • Letters - Important letters could still be sent by UPS/Fedex. It would be more expensive, but I suspect without the USPS, they would offer something comparable to normal mail (no doubt it would be more expensive). All of those businesses that send you pointless letters all the time (TV/internet service, banks, etc) would suddenly have a huge incentive to convince people to accept them in email form (less waste).
  • Packages - Fedex and UPS already do this. They're more expensive, but pouring money into the USPS via taxes just hides the real price.

We wouldn't be without postal service, we'd just be without government postal service.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610778)

Regarding those pointless letters, hopefully some businesses will take and interest in news feeds. I won't hold my breath, though.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611058)

All of those businesses that send you pointless letters all the time (TV/internet service, banks, etc) would suddenly have a huge incentive to convince people to accept them in email form (less waste).

It's a good thing that everyone has email access in their home.

Re:Insilvent? So what? (1)

greenbird (859670) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611372)

Surely the people of the US don't want to be without a postal service?

I could live without it. Nothing but crap in my mail box. Stuff gets lost or stolen all the time. It's a prime source of identity theft. It gives those with a nefarious purpose (lawyers) a way to claim they sent you something. I'm sure I lose stuff all the time in trying to find anything actually useful buried amongst the garbage. About the only things I every send through the mail are to services living in the internet dark ages of yesteryear (primarily government services).

Simple Solution (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610412)

The easiest thing to do would be to greatly increase the rate for "Junk Mail" (4th class mail or whatever they call it). That "bulk rate pre-metered" stuff that costs next to nothing for a business to send, but still must be routed and delivered just like the payments I mail. I just throw it all away, and I imagine most people do the same. If it is really worth it to send, companies can pay closer to what the normal public pays. This would reduce the annoyance for folks at home while lowering the volume of mail (and raising the per item profit).

Re:Simple Solution (0)

Red_Chaos1 (95148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610454)

I think that's a great idea, at least on the surface. Of course the companies would lobby the govt and instead of spending that money on the spam, it'd go into a few politicians pockets and keep it cheap and leave the USPS no better.

Re:Simple Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610530)

I think you're a cock. Yes, a cock. You have no clue at all. Are you RETARDED? I think so. Good grief.

Re:Simple Solution (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610466)

They've got to be very careful; most of their revenue comes from bulk mail right now. If they destroy that market, they'll be insolvent much faster. A small increase in the cost of bulk mail might be survivable; a large increase will make bulk mail unaffordable for the local pizza place, which will quit using it, leaving the postal service much further in the hole. They'd do much better by being in grocery or prescription delivery service in a large way, like cheap next day delivery of refills from your local pharmacies.

Re:Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610840)

They can't destroy it.

Most businesses don't have any real metrics or ways to tell exactly if the junk mail is worth it - kind of the same with the Yellow Pages and copies. "50% of all marketing money is a waste it's just telling which 50% is the waste is the problem." is the old marketing adage.

Nutshell: the postal service can charge a lot more and not harm revenues.

Re:Simple Solution (4, Interesting)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610490)

That "bulk rate pre-metered" stuff that costs next to nothing for a business to send, but still must be routed and delivered just like the payments I mail.

That might not actually be the right approach. If the postal service has to make the trip anyway, this bulk stuff can be delivered pretty much when they please. It might actually be making the most profit for them. The standard mail needs to be delivered on time, so the truck is already making the trip around - why not just pump some trash mail into your mailbox at the same time?

It might not be profitable to do those runs as a trip on its own, but I can't imagine that there is a lot of extra cost when pushing three envelopes into a mailbox rather than just one - meaning that carrying all those extra envelopes is almost pure profit.

Re:Simple Solution (1)

MorePower (581188) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610686)

Ah but why does the postal service "need to make this trip anyway"? If you cut out all the bulk stuff, they would probably only need to send a truck once a week. It would be way more convenient for me to only have to go out to my mail box once a week, and nobody is going to send anything urgent via regular mail (they always suggest it could take about 2 weeks anyway, and they don't guaranty even that).

The only reason we need daily USPS service is because our box would be overflowing with all the crap mail we don't want anyway, which is only sent because it is so preposterously cheep. Raise the rates, all the stupid crap mail everyone hates goes away, you can slash your operating expenses to almost 1/6 of what they currently are, and I only have to walk over to the mailbox once a week. Its pretty much win all around, except for postal workers.

Re:Simple Solution (1, Insightful)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611270)

Ah but why does the postal service "need to make this trip anyway"? If you cut out all the bulk stuff, they would probably only need to send a truck once a week.

They need to make the trip every day as they have a volume of deliveries that have been sent first class. They might only have one first class delivery per street, but as that is the service they are promising when accepting a first class mail to be sent, they therefore have to "make the trip anyway" - so at that point they may as well fill the rest of the truck with crap and try to make a few bucks off it.

The point is, unless you change "first class" mail to be deliverable once per week rather than on a daily basis, you will end up driving around empty trucks each day of the week. Yes, your per item profit will be higher, but your overall net profit will be lower.

If they can indeed negotiate a "once per week" trip down a street for any mail item, I totally agree that increasing the price significantly on the junk mail will be a sound business decision, but until they do that, they are indeed likely making money by filling your mailbox with all the crap that they can shove into a truck.

Re:Simple Solution (4, Insightful)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610556)

I was under the impression that junk mail was how the USPS made all of its money already. I suspect they've carefully considered the rates for it.

Re:Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611256)

And yet, by weight, I probably receive at least 50x more junk than wanted post (including the occasional hard drive or video card from newegg, but those usually go UPS anyway).

I'd be perfectly happy to completely opt out of ALL postal mail, if it wasn't for the fact that some organizations (mostly government) aren't set up to notify me via e-mail.

Where's my FCC do-not-mail list? I don't need any more catalogs from DELL, no more menus from the local food establishments, no more bogus credit card offers.
I'm getting tired of having to read my mail next to a shredder.

Stop daily service to save money (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610450)

Deliver Route 1, deliver Mo-We-Fr on Week 1, and Tu-Th-Sa on Week 2. On Route 2, do the opposite.

One carrier then can take care of 2 routes, cutting the workforce, vehicles, gas, and vehicle maintenance needed quite significantly. Make exceptions only for Express Mail, which is rare to Residential Addresses anyway.

Re:Stop daily service to save money (1)

jk379 (734476) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610492)

Carriers only work 5 days a week but the route is currently covered 6 days a week. Drop a day a week and that would be quick way to save some $$'s.

Re:Stop daily service to save money (1)

sjpadbury (169729) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610568)

And Express mail isn't really handled on the regular routes, but a separate truck anyway.
Days I get Express and the like delivered, I get an extra mailman in addition to the regular drop.

Privacy concerns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610486)

Yes, the article's author "mentions" privacy concerns, but in no meaningful way. I'm not exactly sure what privacy concerns one might have considering that, as far as I know, mail trucks only travel in public places, where things like photography are legal in the US (for instance, you can't be stopped by "security" for taking a picture or filming a building in public view, though you may be curtailed if you, say, zoom into a window and taking a picture of that). Since these trucks are supposed to be taking general data like temperature and pressure (and maybe some video), I'm unclear as to what the privacy concerns actually are (at least, from a legal perspective).

Help prove global warming (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610506)

This will help prove global warming by placing sensors not just next to heat islands, but right on heat islands. Think about it: on an 85*F day, the staticians can cherry-pick 115*F readings off of sensors on vehicles on asphalt, rather than the ones that are properly installed at least 100' away from heat islands. On 28*F days, the sensors can read 35*F (or even warmer!). This would be win-win for the cap & trade brokers!

So what if climate gate showed they skewed the data by placing sensors next to heat islands, and ignoring the incovenient data, and just plain made it up when there was no conveniently skewed data to draw from in the first place. By placing thousands of sensors on platforms which will be on black pavement 99% of the time, the problem with the disturbing cooling trend which has shown the push for Cap & Trade is and always has been about the money will become moot, because then with these sensors we will be able to show that on average, there actually is a warming trend.

Re:Help prove global warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610580)

Wow, that was a neat rant. Too bad it has fuck-all to do with the financial state of the USPS.

wouldn't be a problem if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610518)

Maybe the USPS wouldn't be in such financial trouble if they didn't have to fund military retirement benefits and things they generally don't have anything to do with. It would make a whole lot more sense if, oh, I dunno, the military covered those costs.

Wrong (3, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610548)

Ravnitzky suggests a variety of useful data that could be gathered by postal trucks outfitted with sensors:

detailed weather readings,

Once a day? Not useful at all. There are already tens of thousands of automated weather stations scattered across the country - I bet the author isn't aware of that.

road conditions during storms

I don't see a detailed record of how road conditions are, once a day, on mostly minor roads would help - and the state police already do this for major highways.

road quality (e.g. pothole)

This is not particularly transient - just ask the carriers to phone them in.

gaps in cellular network coverage, sources of radio frequency interference

Um... I don't see the market case, but maybe this one is at least plausible.

and in a homeland security context, detection of chemical or radiological agents.

Again - once a day?

Re:Wrong (1)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610776)

You make some good points, but also miss a couple of key elements.
1. Rather than once/day, a once per minute weather update with geopositioning data would, in fact, be useful, especially if it incorporated the standard info but simply substituted precipitation detection and identification for measurement. Otherwise, T, Td, Pbaro,wind, and solar data could readily be obtained.
2. Rather than requiring a fixed location for each measurement, consider relating geolocation to a fixed grid square. This could be very useful for verification
3. There are thousands of volunteer observers in the US, and a lot are giving their data to NWS. It's valuable, but this would be too.
4. Some work is already going on with this at NCAR. Was in a seminar recently where they talked about mobile mesonets. In fact, a major bus line has agreed to have their bus flet instrumented and the data sent to NWS.
4. Consider Homeland security...Yes, a CBRNEevent would benefit from early detection and ongoing modeling of plume release

I've been looking at mobile weather data systems for almost a decade. Getting USPS to do this would be a good thing.

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610780)

Detailed weather readings: mail trucks hit every point in between those scattered weather stations, plenty of places where there are no stations at all. I'm sorry, but every place I've lived at those things are actually pretty sparse, and this might be great for recording details about microclimates.

Road conditions during storms: mail trucks hit every major road and a huge proportion of minor roads. This information is useful.

Road quality: better coverage, faster maintenance.

Radio interference: yeah, dunno.

Homeland Security: Mail trucks are on the road somewhere all times of day or night. It might only be once a day on a particular road at a particular place, but the coverage is immense.

I think you are underestimating the usefulness of this.

Re:Wrong (1)

blincoln (592401) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610808)

Once a day? Not useful at all.

Once a day may not make sense in the context of a sensor that captures data for a wide area, but it may in the context of sensors that capture data for very small, localized areas. Especially with regards to the security application that you dismiss out of hand - if postal trucks were driving around with radiological sensors while the Radioactive Boy Scout was building his breeder reactor, once a day would have been more than enough to detect what was going on before he gave himself cancer.

I had a similar idea awhile ago, but mine was an opt-in, privately-run system that would use members' cars (or even smartphones, if the sensor package was small enough and could be connected via Bluetooth) for similar purposes. In an ideal situation, that would allow a lot more frequent sampling, but even once per day - done over the course of many days - the organization running the system would be able to amass a *lot* of interesting data depending on the sensors - positions where police frequently set up speed traps, odd localized temperature/weather variations, average speed of traffic at that time of day, the aforementioned radiological/chemical oddities, etc. For a larger net/more frequent sensor polling, there are other things like building up a *very* accurate height-map of roads (to complement orbital radar surveys), real-world traffic conditions, and so on.

One of the theoretical problems I ran into was how to maintain the privacy of members while still ensuring that the data was accurate. If users are required to continuously reuse a unique identifier, then the data could be subpoenaed at some point to reveal where their vehicle was at any given time. I figured that would make people less likely to sign up, but on the other hand, if the source of a given set of data can't be identified, then it's very difficult to prevent abuse (people feeding in bogus data to throw off results). I had some thoughts along those lines*, but by putting them on postal service vehicles instead of privately-owned cars, that stops being a significant concern altogether.

Obviously the government could even do something like put a LIDAR scanner and camera array on them, then sell the collected data to companies like Google (since they're driving around anyway, it would be cheaper than Google's StreetView operation), but I imagine that might be a conflict of interest, at least some of the time, because the Postal Service has a reasonable expectation of access to places that Google doesn't.

* Basically, maintaining a "trust-level web" for each UID, where every sample was tied to a UID, and samples of the same area were regularly cross-checked. If a sample from a particular UID was outside the range of a bunch of other samples from the same area, the trust-level for all samples uploaded by that UID would be reduced. Users could reset their UID whenever they wanted (leaving no trace of the old one on their device, and no way to tie the old sample set back to them), but the base trust level for a given UID would be tied to how long it had been in use, to provide an incentive for not resetting it.

Wrong: A Mailbox with a view. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611552)

My solution to the "once a day" problem is to turn every mailbox into a sensor platform and pay US for the data.

Homeland security? (2)

Sketchly (1354369) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610576)

"detection of chemical or radiological agents"??? like, someone could detonate a nuclear bomb in NYC and no-one would notice except the postman?

Better business plan? (2)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610594)

-Evening hours to make it easier to ship (i.e. easier to hand them MONEY!)

-Drop Tuesday/Thursday mail delivery.

-Switch to Hybrid trucks, as their driving habits are about as ideal as it comes for a hybrid rig (low speed, lots of start/stop driving).

-Offer a "Spam" blocker service as a subscription to stop junk mail for a fee.

-Make their package tracking actually track packages, not just magically go from "In Transit" to "Delivered".

-Contract with Google to put cameras on top for nearly daily updates to Google Maps Streetview.

More distopian:

-Use lobbyists to subvert things so that email/online cannot be legally used to conduct business.

-Figure out how to be another "Too Big To Fail" organization.

Re:Better business plan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610842)

-Evening hours to make it easier to ship (i.e. easier to hand them MONEY!)

...Not likely. Especially in rural areas. Staff costs money.

-Drop Tuesday/Thursday mail delivery.

Even more reason to drop traditional mail entirely.

-Switch to Hybrid trucks, as their driving habits are about as ideal as it comes for a hybrid rig (low speed, lots of start/stop driving).

Perhaps; but you must realize, most of the postalmobiles out there are already pretty damned green.

-Offer a "Spam" blocker service as a subscription to stop junk mail for a fee.

...And then lose the business of people sending you that 'spam' - aka, the Post Office's primary source of income these days.

-Make their package tracking actually track packages, not just magically go from "In Transit" to "Delivered".

Going to agree - though UPS and FedEx are hardly without problems in this department, either.

-Contract with Google to put cameras on top for nearly daily updates to Google Maps Streetview.

Why? Nobody needs this. Though the idea of partnering with Google is a good one for one reason - the fact that massive swaths of the country still have no street view.

Hell, I'd just like the Post Office to clarify media mail, so I'm not given a different answer on what's acceptable and what isn't every time I ask. :P

Re:Better business plan? (1)

sincewhen (640526) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611160)

> Switch to Hybrid trucks

Here in Australia, deliveries in the suburbs are done on small, fuel effient motorcycles:
postie bikes [google.com.au]

They also have the advantage that they can be ridden right up to the mailbox, then across the driveways/footpath to the next letterbox.

NO MORE PAPER CRAP ADS! (2)

techhead79 (1517299) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610634)

Why don't they charge 5x more for advertisements? I get these crap coupon wads of paper like three times a week and it all goes right into the trash. Not to mention the dumb ass Charter love letters begging me to come back. I don't want my inbox or mailbox stuffed full of advertisements. We can't stop spam so we should at least be able to stop the snail mail right?

Re:NO MORE PAPER CRAP ADS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610712)

Yup. If they didn't need to stop at every house with that shit, their routes would be done significantly quicker, saving both labor and fuel. We are opted out of every mailing list we can find, but the local crap still manages to come through every day, even if there is no real mail for us. Now let's scale that for the entire country. Not good!

Last mile problem (1)

pikine (771084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610660)

Certainly the cost of delivery should reflect on the postage.

Let's say there is a house 5 miles away from the post office in its own secluded neighborhood, and the road's speed limit is 20 mph. It takes 15 minutes to drive there, and 15 minutes to drive back, for a total of 30 minutes. At a pay rate of $50k/yr [payscale.com] , that's about $24 an hour. The total cost of that delivery, assuming there is only one first class mail in the truck for that house, is $12. The postage you pay right now for a first class mail is 44 cents.

To be profitable, USPS would have to save enough letters and packages for this house and deliver a large batch. Someone in this household can choose to pick up mail from the postoffice sooner, or will have to wait for a few days for more mail to come. At the rate I receive mail, it would probably take a month to accumulate that much mail.

The telecom industry knows this as the last mile problem. I see no exemption for USPS.

That's Already How It Works! (4, Informative)

waldoj (8229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610744)

Congratulations, you've just described exactly how the USPS works.

Bajillions of people who live in rural areas (like me) pick up their mail at the post office, because the cost of delivery to their homes is prohibitive. Universal service is not, in fact, universal, and never has been. Even UPS won't deliver to my house—I've got to pick up their packages at the post office (!), too.

Also, your example is ludicrous. Have you ever heard of a house so isolated that it's in a "neighborhood" (?) five miles away and yet, mysteriously, this five-mile-long stretch of road, devoid of any homes or businesses, has a 20 MPH speed limit on its road? Because I can't summon any scenario in which that would be the case.

Re:That's Already How It Works! (1)

pikine (771084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611328)

You've apparently never lived in Vermont. But thanks for blaming your frustration on me, for the lack of universal postal service because you chose to live in a rural area.

Re:That's Already How It Works! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611488)

Seriously. At that stretch I bet the driver is pulling 65, maybe 70...

Delivery companies know how to charge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34610670)

I spoke to a startup that were making wireless sensor units and mapping software, and suggested they contact the Royal Mail (here in the UK) get their sensing units installed in the delivery trucks. Seems like a fair way to get lots of data quickly and to most of the populated areas of the UK.

However, the startup guys said they'd tried this, but the problem is that the Royal Mail know exactly how much it costs to transport an object of a given size/shape/weight. Because of this, their small boxes would have cost quite a lot to be installed in their fleet which ruled out the proposition.

Get Congress Out of The Mix (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610692)

The problem with the USPS is that it while it is not funded by the Federal Government, it is controlled by it. This quasi-enterprise status is completely impractical.

To illustrate the issue the USPS has massive overcapacity for the service level it provides. Any business faced with this would consolidate or downsize in order to save money. Unfortunately Congress won't let them do it. Any time the USPS wants to close a branch, the people living in the immediate area protest to their Congresscritter who then blocks it. The result is gross inefficiency.

If it were possible to slap the Congress upside the head on this issue the USPS would have a chance. Right now it doesn't.

sigh slashdot (1)

jonpublic (676412) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610702)

The post office is going to lose money because unlike UPS, they can't raise rates. They have to visit everyone's house 6 days a week.

It's actually a very very efficient organization. It's the constraints put upon it that make it so that it loses money. Congress won't allow this cost saving, Congress won't allow to cut service. Congress won't allow it to raise rates.

If you know anyone that's a postal carrier, you know it's a stressful job. Hence the term, going postal.

Re:sigh slashdot (2)

crunchygranola (1954152) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610824)

The post office is going to lose money because unlike UPS, they can't raise rates. They have to visit everyone's house 6 days a week.

It's actually a very very efficient organization. It's the constraints put upon it that make it so that it loses money. Congress won't allow this cost saving, Congress won't allow to cut service. Congress won't allow it to raise rates.

...

Actually it has made profits fairly consistently in the past, it posted a profit of $910 million in 2006. Since then it has taken it on the chin with the economy, and - as you note - the refusal of Congress to allow cost reductions or raising rates to allow it to adapt.

Any number of service cut backs that a private company would make in a heartbeat can restore it to profitability, as can appropriate rate increases.

It is a highly efficient operation - you cannot find another postal system in the world that does better.

Why do they have to be profitable? (1)

rubies (962985) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610716)

If the service benefits most US taxpayers. Besides which, if I were going to spend a fortune on sensors, I'd put them on garbage trucks instead. You *know* the garbage is getting picked up, but the mail truck doesn't necessarily go everywhere, all the time

Re:Why do they have to be profitable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34611156)

The problem is that you have to deal with a gazillion different garbage companies. With the USPS you could have one agreement.

What Login Link? (1)

russlar (1122455) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610746)

Login link? Where?

"Live" street view (1)

ben_kelley (234423) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610768)

I read an article a while back about a company developing a system that can pull together CCTV feeds from a number of sources to produce a time-stamped street view. They indicated that a potential source of data collection would be to put GPS correlated cameras on service vehicles, such as buses and garbage trucks. (I imagine USPS trucks would work here.)

The output of such a system was a map-like user interface. Think Google Earth/Street View, but where you can ask it "OK, but show me the same place this time yesterday," and the system works out the best way to show you what you want.

Homeland security / Seinfeld (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610814)

The 'Wanted' posters at the post office...
You're there, you got your package, you're trying to mail something, this guy's wanted in 12 states.
Yeah, now what? Ok.
I check the guy standing in line behind me...
if it's not him, that's pretty much all I can do.

Shrink it already (1)

defaria (741527) | more than 3 years ago | (#34610850)

I don't understand. We all know that people increasingly use email instead of letters and Facebook et. al. instead of sending pictures or post cards. People bank on the web and don't need to send paper checks anymore. Why not simply shrink the post office if the demand's not there. Surely we can find other more intelligent things for the former postal workers to do!

charge extra for junk mail (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611070)

any magazine that offers the occupant something for sale then the USPS should be able to charge extra for the delivery of that advertising (junk mail) i have a grocery sack of junk-mail magazines waiting to be recycled and its all pulp spam to me, buy one item 5 years ago and they all share your address and spam your snail mail box for the rest of your life.

Anti-wikileaks measure (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611158)

I think we all know that the postal services is not going away. They will increase fees and get more from the tax payers. Hopefully, they will make good decisions, and perhaps someone should tell them that people are sending more emails than mail...in case they didn't get the memo. I would also suggest that some might be sending more written letters than emails since the wiki leaks. There has got to be more than one company or agency that is now sending a few more paper items because of that.

Sell advertising space on the side of their trucks (1)

kungfugleek (1314949) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611284)

Worked great on The Apprentice.

Just let it fail already (1)

jaypifer (64463) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611348)

All the USPO is at this point is a junk mail distributor. Mail has been by and large replaced by email. They duplicate efforts of private companies that could easily fill any gap they would leave behind. The $8.5 billion loss is the tip of the iceberg if we consider unfunded pension liabilities.

Close excess branches (1)

Ed Peepers (1051144) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611404)

They should close some of their excess branches. In rural areas/small towns where people might raise more of a stink, make the USPS an in-store mini-office at the nearest grocery store. If banks manage to have secure in-store branches, I imagine the USPS can figure it out too.

They're not losing money (4, Interesting)

perpetual pessimist (1245416) | more than 3 years ago | (#34611532)

From the postal service's own Inspector General report [uspsoig.gov] :

The following paper demonstrates that the current system of funding the Postal Service’s Civil Service Retirement System pension responsibility is inequitable and has resulted in the Postal Service overpaying $75 billion to the pension fund.

The postal service is having money extracted from it each year, channeled to other parts of the federal government pension systems (mostly military). This is to help disguise how bad the federal budget is overdrawn. If the post office were allowed to fund their peoples' pensions the way every other government agency is, they'd be showing a profit.

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