With more than 48,000 vehicles in service the Royal Mail operates the largest fleet of CVs in Europe, delivering to 29 million addresses in the UK every week.
The postal service needs to reach a diverse range of locations, from city centres to rural outposts, and the fleet consists of around 42,000 vans, 3,700 trucks and 2,300 trailers.
About 90,000 Royal Mail employees drive as part of their daily duties while the international courier division Parcel Force also employs owner-drivers. The majority of vehicles are returned to a depot overnight.
Paul Gatti, Royal Mail Fleet director, highlights the sheer scale of the operation. “The Royal Mail provides the universal service for all of the UK, and our vehicles provide that service from Land’s End to John O’Groats, six days a week,” he says.
Many readers will have particular brands and models in mind when they think of the postman pulling up outside the gate, but Gatti claims: “We do not favour any manufacturers – our vehicle specification is very well defined and we review the market to find the optimal match.”
However, certain manufacturers, such as Fiat Professional, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot and Vauxhall feature prominently, whereas trailers are supplied mainly by Cartwrights with some from Don Bur. More specifically, the small van you see in the famous red and gold livery is likely to be a Peugeot Bipper; light vans are most commonly Peugeot Partners, Vauxhall Combos and Fiat Professional Doblos; medium vans are Peugeot Experts, Vauxhall Vivaros and Ford Transit Customs; and large vans are predominantly Mercedes Sprinters and Peugeot Boxers.
Vans tend to stay on the Royal Mail fleet for a long stint – Gatti says depreciation is calculated over a nine-year period. End-of-life-cycle vehicles are then typically auctioned off, non-runners are sold directly to a network of scrappage agents, and what Gatti describes as “green parts” that can be re-used are sent to Royal Mail Fleet workshops to be fitted to customers’ vehicles.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Royal Mail Fleet does not employ any pick-up trucks to deliver to less accessible areas. Instead, Gatti explains, it uses Peugeot Partners modified by French 4x4 conversion firm Dangel.
“This conversion provides higher ground clearance and protection of the underside of the vehicle plus the addition of a limited slipped differential to allow for better traction in difficult terrain,” Gatti says.
“As damage to the underside of a vehicle can cost us anything from £200 to £2,000 this is a very cost-effective way of preventing avoidable damage. In addition, the modification does not affect the manufacturer warranty.”
In such a massive fleet operation safety is, of course, a key issue. Royal Mail Fleet identifies the three main areas of concern as vehicle compliance, accidents and driver risk. Gatti says collisions are measured per 1,000 vehicles over a 12-month rolling average.
“There has been an improvement of 5.4% year on year for this measurement,” he claims.
“The reduction in collision rates equates to 525 fewer collisions during the year, delivering a financial saving of over £1m.”
He lists items recently incorporated into the organisation’s safety management system as having contributed to the improvement. These include the following standards: Occupational Road Risk, Driver Selection and Suitability, Driver Fitness, Driver Competency, Driver Behaviour and Management Responsibility, Vehicle Selection and Suitability, Vehicle Use, and Vehicle Maintenance.
Gatti says the Royal Mail issues regular road safety communications to its drivers on key issues and holds quarterly Road Safety Weeks focusing on avoiding common causes of collisions through providing training in safe parking, driving safely in winter, reversing safely and using parking sensors correctly.
To help drivers avoid slow manoeuvring collisions the company has produced a training video covering the most common hazards and their potential consequences. The video uses the story of a child’s day to maximise driver engagement, according to Gatti.
The Royal Mail has established a Road Safety Taskforce, comprised of senior representatives from across the operation, which reviews all road safety performance in the group with the aim of continually reducing road traffic collision rates.
The company has purchased five ‘safety concept’ vehicles with a range of safety features selected to tackle issues identified as causing problems for Royal Mail drivers. “The vehicles were rotated around the country, their performance assessed, and drivers provided feedback regarding each of the safety features,” explains Gatti.
As a result the group upgraded its purchasing specifications to include Chapter 8 high-visibility livery and front parking sensors as well as the Dangel conversions for higher ground clearance in rural areas. In addition, the group has installed telemetry devices in 40% of its red vehicle fleet that incorporate in-cab feedback as a driver aid.
Following a pilot scheme across 20 workshops during the preceding 15 months, in April Royal Mail Fleet opened up its network of 110 service, maintenance and repair (SMR) centres in the UK to commercial fleet customers.
The workshops, staffed by more than 1,000 experienced vehicle technicians, will offer industry-leading service, maintenance and repair across a complete range of vehicle types and plant items, the group claims.
“Managing Europe’s largest commercial fleet gives us an unrivalled understanding of vehicle compliance, safety and availability,” Gatti says. “When combined with our network of 110 workshops and 40 mobile technicians, collectively the UK’s largest independent workshop network, this creates a highly attractive offering for commercially critical fleet operators who are faced with the challenges of maximising efficiency, compliance and availability on a daily basis.”
According to the Royal Mail, more than 70 of the workshops are open for business for at least 12 hours a day, over 50 are capable of maintaining HGVs, and 20 have installed double-deck trailer maintenance equipment. The group says it deployed a new operating platform six months ago that is integrated across its fleet management and workshop network in order to facilitate consistency of service and pricing across all sites.
The workshop initiative can be seen as a way for the Royal Mail to make the most of its resources at a time when stamped letter deliveries – its traditional staple – are in decline. In the nine months to 25 December 2016, the Royal Mail reported a 6% drop in addressed letter volume compared to the same period a year earlier, although parcel delivery volumes were up 2%.
Opening up its SMR network to third parties follows similar moves by BT Fleet, which launched its third-party business 15 years ago, and Carillion Fleet Management.
In conclusion Gatti says: “We believe that the time is right for Royal Mail Fleet to open up its extensive network of workshops to other commercial customers. Fleet operators have already told us that they want a provider with national coverage and a true one-stop-shop capability for commercially critical fleets from a name they can trust.”