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Dynamic Routing for Package Delivery

By: Harry Whitehouse, Chief Innovative Officer, International Bridge

If you are in or near a major metropolitan area, you may have seen USPS delivery trucks scurrying about on Sundays and Holidays. These trucks are handling only packages for the burgeoning e-commerce business. To pull this off, USPS has had to change from a time-honored approach of “fixed carrier routes” to “dynamic routing”.

Traditional carrier routes are still used 6 days a week — Monday through Saturday.  Here each Post Office will map out a walked or driven route for each carrier assigned to that Post Office. The carrier follows that route each day, dropping off mail to those homes or businesses on his route and often picking up outgoing mail. If a given address has no mail that day, the carrier just passes by.  Carrier routes are numbered — you can ask you local carrier what route he server and he will likely say some like “C010” — that would be route #10 for your home Post Office. Rural carriers have routes starting with “R”. Depending on the size of a Post Office, it might have anywhere between 5 and 200 carriers. If you look at some of the later mail you receive, you will sometimes see the carrier route printed near the delivery address.

Now for days where only packages are being delivered, the fixed carrier route model becomes too expensive. So USPS has invested in some sophisticated software to come up with “dynamic routes”.  

Shipper using the USPS generally provide an electronic manifest when they create their shipping labels. Even small shippers who use the USPS Click and Ship web site are creating an electronic manifest in the background. The manifests contain a unique tracking number and the delivery address for that package. USPS uses geo-location services to identify the exact location of each delivery point on an "electronic map". They then use other software to identify the most efficient route for the delivery van to delivery all of those packages on that day. The driver is given that route each day and uses technology similar to Google Maps or Waze to traverse that route.  In this way, USPS can meet it’s package delivery commitments on Sundays and Holidays with a much smaller staff.

Here’s an example of a typical dynamic route for the delivery of 8 packages in a pre-estimated 24 minutes.

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