Last May, the New Zealand (NZ) Post began a pilot program to use electric golf buggies, also known as low-speed vehicles (LSVs), to deliver both letters and parcels.
A fully operational trial was first begun in New Plymouth by the Taranaki branch of the NZ Post, featuring both three-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles that can be driven on either city streets or footpaths. The move was made to improve efficiency in residential neighborhoods and save on long-term costs.
Paxster and Kyburz Vehicles Tested
The NZ Post initially purchased a total of 20 electric golf buggies at prices of up to $20,000 apiece for the pilot program in Taranaki, which is combining the delivery of letters and parcels rather than keeping them separate as had been standard practice.
When asked about the reason for the program, Ashley Smout, the chief operating officer of customer-service delivery, stated that the growth of the online-shopping industry required the government to look for ways to make the increased number of deliveries more efficient instead of simply raising prices to non-competitive levels.
“I think you’ll see more of these around New Zealand as parcel volumes increase, and it enables us to be the most competitive parcel-delivery business in the country,” said Smout.
In New Plymouth, two models of electric golf buggies were initially chosen by the NZ Post: the three-wheeled Kyburz and the four-wheeled Paxster. The Kyburz has a range of 40 kilometers on a single battery charge while the Paxster can travel 60 kilometers. Both models can carry a maximum load of 300 kilograms, and both have a top speed of 45 kmh. However, while they are being driven on footpaths, drivers must obey a maximum speed limit of 10 kmh.
“We had to talk to all the councils, both nationally and locally, about that, but we got a lot of support,” replied Smout to questions about driving on footpaths. “Certainly, the first issue is that we have to make sure the public is safe, but the vehicles will operate at something like 10 kmh, and the drivers will be trained to look out for pedestrians.”
NZ Post to Be Restructured
The plan to introduce electric golf buggies to the NZ Post came about as part of a larger restructuring program. A steady loss of revenue is being balanced by cutting back approximately 2,000 positions within the agency over the next five years, including about 400 delivery personnel, often referred to as posties.
While the cutbacks are unnerving many posties who are unsure of what the future holds, most current workers remain philosophical about the changes. “Something needs to happen because mail volumes have been dropping year on year for quite a while now, and if we don’t address it right away and wait five years, who knows what state we’ll be in,” said postie Spencer Salt.
According to Jan Natoli, organizer of the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union (EPMU), posties are optimistic about the future, and Chris Lake, a business-improvement specialist for the NZ Post, added that they were excited about the new vehicles. However, Lake had noted that there was some talk about missing the free workout posties receive during their rounds.
Electric Vehicles Soon to Be in Service
Even though the Paxsters were ordered back in May of last year, the final preparations to put them into regular service are only now being made. The good news about the program is that it is going to cost only about 100 jobs rather than the 400 that was initially predicted, and the plan is expected to strengthen the NZ Post’s position in the modern and increasingly competitive courier industry.
“We see in the future the ability for posties to not only drop off parcels but also collect them from people to make it as convenient as possible,” Smout said. “With the decline in mail, we’re losing something like $30 million a year in revenue, so we have to do something.”
The loss in revenue for the NZ Post is directly tied to paperless billing. Just over the past six months, 30 million fewer letters were sent in New Zealand.
The trial program has been viewed as a great success, but the Kyburz models have been dropped in favor of the Paxster. A shipment of 50 new Paxsters is expected to arrive by mid-year, and hundreds more are to be purchased at a cost of $15 million.
Another change that has been made to the program was prompted by the public’s reaction to the electric LSVs on city streets. After several incidents of road rage, the NZ Post decided that the vehicles will be limited to footpaths, making way for pedestrians as they come.