Self-Driving Trucks Pilot Tests

Michael O. Foster

July 25, 2019

Share this article

(This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Autonomous technology and self-driving trucks have been on the front page of many news and social media sites lately.

The primary reason for the news is the Postal Service’s pilot test of an autonomous truck between the Dallas and Phoenix Processing and Distribution Centers (P&DCs).

The Postal Service informed the APWU it was contracting with TU Simple, a San Diego-based autonomous truck technology company, to provide and operate the autonomous truck during the test.

The test was conducted from May 21 through May 30. TU Simple was to run five round trips, of approximately 1000 miles each way, carrying live mail between the facilities.

In the notice to the union, the Postal Service also said that while the truck drives autonomously, all test trips would have both a driver with a Commercial Driver’s License and a safety engineer in the cab. The driver would take over manual control of the truck before it entered Postal Service property and would operate the truck manually while it remained on Postal Service property.

Reporting on the beginning of the trial, Reuters said, “If successful, it would mark an achievement for the autonomous driving industry and a possible solution to the driver shortage and regulatory constraints faced by freight haulers across the country.”

In a May 20 article, the Postal Service said it is considering “new technology to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions and produce operational savings.”

As indicated, the initial pilot is geared for long-haul routes with short turnaround times, which appear to make the most of highway driving. However, as indicated by the Postal Service’s notice, a driver will be operating the truck manually while on postal property. The trick will be to back that tractor-trailer autonomously to the back in the limited spaces most postal facilities have for maneuvering. As more information becomes available, we will keep you informed about the potential impact to APWU members.

Common Fleet Case Decided

In a decision issued on April 15, 2019, National Panel Arbitrator Goldberg rejected the APWU’s argument that the Postal Service violates the National Agreement and the Postal Operations Manual when it permits HCR contractors to operate postal-leased trailers. The union’s argument relied on Postal Operations Manual (POM) language that defines PVS trailers as those that “are operated by USPS personnel.”

In rejecting the union’s argument, Goldberg reasoned that the APWU seemed to be trying to add the word “solely” to the definition found in the POM, Section 713.1.

The Arbitrator also rejected the union’s argument that the Postal Service was violating the requirements in Article 32.2 that the Postal Service give due consideration to cost and to the availability of equipment.

On the issue of cost, the USPS admitted that it “factors out” trailer costs when it permits HCR contractors to operate postal-leased trailers without charging them. It is undisputed that trailer costs are approximately 6-8 percent of trucking operation costs. Goldberg ruled that the Postal Service is giving due consideration to these costs by “factoring them out” of its considerations when comparing the cost of PVS to the cost of HCR contracts. The union had argued that ignoring costs by “factoring them out” of HCR to PVS comparisons is not the same as giving them due consideration as required by the contract.

Arbitrator Goldberg also ruled that it does not violate the due consideration requirement of Article 32.2 for management to refuse to consider whether or not it could make better use of excess PVS equipment if it were to reconfigure an HCR contract.

Neither the parties’ MOU on Contracting or Insourcing of Contracted Services nor the parties’ MOU on Motor Vehicle Craft Jobs was at issue in the case. The Common Fleet decision can be found on

As the magazine was going to press, we were saddened to learn of the passing of former MVS Director Robert. C. Pritchard. Please look in the September/October issue of the American Postal Worker for a special “In Memorial” article.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.