HOW THE POST OFFICE USES THE VAN.
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A Large and Growing Fleet of Motors Used Solely on the Ground of a Substantial Financial Saving.
THE mechanical transport section of the General Post Office has grown enormously within the last few years. The work falls into three distinct sections :—The first section caters for the engineering side of the Post Office activities, viz., the maintenance of telegraph and telephone lines; , the second caters for the postal services—that is to say, collection and delivery of mail matter and parcels; whilst the third section deals with stores.
The engineering section has a fleet of 600 motorcycle combinations, 40 three-ton lorries, and 130 light vans. We propose only to deal with the last-named of this group, the use made of them being to convey men and materials from the local headquarters (because these 'vehicles are scattered all over the country), to deal with emergeney troubles, breakdowns, etc. These vehicles are maintained by the driveremeehanics, who do their own running repairs, unless the repair happens to be beyond the capacity of a particular driver, when it can be given to one of the local repairers on quotation. The Stores Department supplies materials, checks • estimates and accounts, and keeps a very close watch on these costs.
In connection with the postal side of the business, there are about 100 vehicles, of which nearly 20 would be one-tonners, and the remainder with a capacity of from 5 to 8 cwt. each. Of these smaller capacity vehicles 55' are G.W.K.s, which, although built for 8 cwt. loads, are rarely taxed beyond 5 cwt. The remainder of the vehicles are Fords—either vans or one-ton trucks—equipped with English-built bodies. The Post Office finds that it has been impossible to get an English vehicle at a price which would make it a good substitute for the Ford.
In the postal service the loads are more bulky than weighty. Letter bags are, as a rule, 'heavier for the same cubic contents than parcel matter, but, generally, no big loads have to be dealt with. These vans are not being substituted for the con
tractors' , services, except where too high a value is placed by a contractor epon his work, but they are largely being employed as a substitute for the foot post, the cycle post, or the mounted service (horse and cart), or a part combinatiori of any of these three. They are largely employed in the 'carriage of postal matter to and from railway stations and post offices. The important long-distance mail services by road, which were dropped at the outbreak of war, have not yet been resumed, but, in any case, they were always conducted by much bigger vehicles than what could be termed a light van.
The motor services, again, are only being introduced where a substantial saving can be shown. The Surveyor of a district is supplied by the mechanical transport department with the running costs per mile and, the standing charges of motomans. The matter is. discussed between the Surveyor and the Postmaster, and if the figures for the 'motor service compare favourably with the other service or services already being employed by that postmaster, a proposel for improving the services is put forward to the mechanical transport department. The estimate is scanned, and, if necessary, an independent survey of the route is made. Occasionally the greater experience of the mechanical .transport department enables them to see that the cost of maintaining the vehicles and providing a substituted service would be so heavy that it would swallow up any saving that might otherwise be effected, for it must be remembered that in the collection and delivery of postal matters, vehicles may not always be keeping to the main roads. Very hilly and rough routes, abnormal numbers of stops for delivery work or collection of mails from pillar boxes, 'materially add to the cost of maintenance, and where it is found that there would be no financial gain, the postmaster is advised to retain the existing service, the matter being reconsidered should circumstances change.
The cry at the, present is, of coarse, all for economy, and, there can be no question about it, the mechanical transport department of .tho Post Office has for some time placed economy in the forefront of its programme; later on it may be passible to relax this rule, and then some cf the districts at present deprived of the advantages of the motor vehicle can be given the benefits which would accrue from its introduction, viz., later collections and earlier deliveries.
The driving talent is, in all cases, raw material in the shape of the local postman, and, as might be expected from a class of men of more than. usual intelligence, excellent results have been obtained. It is the practice to send down a. mechanic-instructor, who takes the postman and his reserve driver and devotes from four to five days to the pair, teaching them driving and all running repairs. The men are provided with full information on the. technical side, and the result has been entirely successful, because it is found that two men will learn more than twice as much as one man would learn, one helping the other to grasp the situation, and, in. subsequent discussions, to elucidate the problems that. always crop up in any motoring novitiate. Out of the large number that have already been taught., it is a curious fact that only one driver has had to be replaced, his fault seeming to be that of a predilection for unduly high speed.
A schedule of the minor repairs that are expected to be done by-the men is provided for them, and the whole of this information is also passed on to the postmasters by whom the men are employed, each postmaster appointing an inspector from one of his staff, who supervises the work of the men and makes sure that the vans are kept in good condition and in running order.
The men are given an allowance for cleaning and for carrying out minor repairs, and they are also provided with protective clothing in addition to their uniforms.
The mechanical transport department keeps very careful records of costs. In connection with every vehicle a book, which is generally known in the service as a " life history, is provided, and this book follows the vehicle, throughout its life, having recorded in it all expenditure on running costs (that is to say, petrol, oil, carbide, paraffin, grease, wages, garage charges, repairs, renewals, and cost of hiring a substitute vehicle. Wherever circumstances warrant it, a reserve Vehicle is maintained, so as to avoid hiring when the service vehicle is in dock, This " life history" is posted periodically, and a carbon. copy is sent to the mechanical transport department, where the information contained in it,is summarized and broken up on to analysis cards, from which cost charts are plotted. Should anything be seen to be wrong, inquiridi are at once instituted.
All stores reqturect are requisitioned on a form, which is not only clever, but an example,of economy. The form fills four purposes. It is; first of all, a requisition from the postmaster to the mechanical transport department, .a separate form beinglfilled up for the goods required either from a contractor or from the &ores Department. A space on the form enables it then to be used as an order to the contractor ; a further space makes it an advice note of dispatch by which the form is brought back to the postmaster who originally filled it up, and then, in a final space, the postmaster uses it as a receipt for the goods and an advice to the controller that the goods have been received. The form circulates and constitutes a complete record of a transaction. In the Stores Section of the mechanical transport department there is a fleet of 40 one-ton vans and two and three tonners. ,Various makes have ,been purchased at times, but the department is noalq concentrating on Albion and Maudslay in the heavier class and Fords in the lightest class. These vehicles are used for the delivery of postal and telegraphic stores broadly within a -radius of 50 nuies of London, whilst there is a semi-weekly service to Birmingham,taking stores down for repair and bringing back finished stores. It is found that enormous economies are 'effected in this Birmingham service over rail transport.; not only can, say, an elaborate switchboard for a, telephone exchange be collected and delivered on the same day, but all the costly charges entailed by packing are avoided ; sa much so, that the saving on packing and labour will actually cover the whole cost of the ;journey. ,
The drivers employed on the Stores vans are all men who have graduated in the department, passing up from the post of porters to. that4of guards, and thence to. the position of reserve drivers, and finally to that of drivers. This arrangement has worked exceptionally well, and the. result has been the development of a very fine gratin of men.
The experience .obtained from the running and maintenance of this extensive mechanical transport section of the postal service has been to place the department in a very useful position for checking contractors' charges; thus making for the greatest possible economy. The Department., again, is aiming to save money in the running of the vehicles by carrying .out tests of various ideas and suggestions, and also tests of competitive materials ; for example, to get a single mile extra out of every gallon of petrol used by only one class of vehicle results in a saving of over a thousand pounds a year.