Postal Service introduces RPDC Regions

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has begun implementing a massive transformation of its processing and delivery network. The largest and strategically most important facilities in the new network will be the sixty Regional Processing and Distribution Centers. These RPDCs will have the capacity to handle all mail transported into and out of their regions. They will be the main nodes in the network.

All this has been known for some time, but we’re now learning about an additional dimension of the new network. According to a USPS presentation recently shared with some stakeholders, these RPDC facilities will be surrounded by what’s being called RPDC Regions.

The presentation provides abstract graphic maps for eleven RPDC Regions — those that surround the first wave of eleven RPDCs that will launch over the coming months.

Here’s a national map, based on (not in) the presentation, showing these eleven RPDC regions. (Click on the map to enlarge, click here to go to an interactive version.)

Eleven RPDC Regions. (Click on map to enlarge. Go to interactive version.)

Each RPDC region consists of a territory defined by a cluster of several 3-digit ZIP Code prefixes called SCFs. This refers to Sectional Center Facility, a processing and distribution center that serves all the post offices within the SCF service area (consisting of one or more 3-digit ZIPs).

In the continental US, there are about 900 3-digit ZIP prefixes, 400 unique SCF service areas, and 200 processing centers serving as Sectional Center Facilities. The eleven RPDC regions in the first wave encompass about 150 of these ZIP prefixes and 70 different SCF service areas.

Each RPDC region includes the RPDC facility and two or more Local Processing Centers. These LPCs will sort letter and flat mail to carrier route or delivery walk sequence and serve as transfer hubs to aggregate mail on its way to delivery. There will eventually be over two hundred LPCs in the country. (A list of the ZIP prefixes and SCFs in the first wave, along with their corresponding RPDC regions and LPC areas, is here.)

Here’s a map for the Portland RPDC Region and its three LPCs areas, based on the graphic map and other information in the presentation.

Portland RPDC Region (Click on map to enlarge. Go to interactive map.)

The Portland RPDC Region includes the RPDC housed at the huge Portland P&DC plus three LPCs. One LPC is collocated at the Portland RPDC and will serve most of the RPDC region (970-973, 977-978, 986). A second LPC will be located at the repurposed P&DC in Eugene and serve Eugene (974). The third will be at the Medford P&DC and serve both Medford (975) and Klamath Falls (976).

Here’s a map showing the RDPC region for Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta RPDC Region (Click on map to enlarge. Go to interactive map.)

The Atlanta RPDC region consists of the new RPDC facility in Palmetto, in southwest metro Atlanta. The region also contains four LPCs that are repurposed P&DCs: The Atlanta LPC (301-303, 311 and 399); the North Metro LPC (300, 305, 306); the Macon LPC (304, 310, 312, 318-319); and the Augusta LPC (298, 308-309).

According to the presentation, originating packages currently processed in Georgia’s Peachtree P&DC and Atlanta P&DC will be moved to the Palmetto RPDC sometime in the fall. Later this year, package processing will be moved from the Mid-Carolina P&DC to the Palmetto RPDC. In 2024, operations at the Atlanta NDC will be moved to Palmetto, and the NDC will be closed.

Here’s a map showing the RPDC region for Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond RPDC Region (Click on map to enlarge. Go to interactive map.)

The Richmond RPDC Region includes the Sandston RPDC, which will also house an LPC for most of the region (224-225, 229-232, 244, 288-289). A second LPC, located in the repurposed Norfolk P&DC, will serve Norfolk (233-237) and the northeastern area of the Rocky Mount (279). Sometime this summer, originating packages will moved from the Norfolk P&DC to the Sandston RPDC, which will also take mail from Rocky Mount 279.

S&DCs and Post Offices

In addition to one RPDC and one or more LPCs, each RPDC region includes two or more Sorting & Delivery Centers and all the post offices in the ZIP codes within the region. With 60 RPDC regions and 31,000 post offices, each RPDC region will average about 500 post offices.

Here’s a map showing the Richmond RPDC region with all of its facilities. A list is here.

In addition to the Sandston RPDC/LPC (red) and the Norfolk LPC (green), the region includes four S&DCs — one at the Norfolk LPC and the others in repurposed P&DCs in Richmond, Charlottesville, and Hampton.

The region includes over 500 post offices. About 80 of these offices are within a 30-minute drive of one of the four S&DCs, and they could become “spoke” offices (black) that give up their carriers to an S&DC hub.

The remaining 420 post offices are outside the 30-minute reach of an S&DC. Some of these offices are relatively close to an S&DC, while others are over a hundred miles away. The dark red dots on the map indicate those likely to have a delivery unit — main post offices, stations, and branches. The orange dots indicate those that typically don’t have delivery units — finance stations, finance branches, and Remotely Managed Post Offices (those with reduced hours under POStPlan).

Under the current system, all of these post offices receive mail early each morning from one of the region’s five P&DCs, delivered by Highway Contract Route drivers. At the end of the day, the HCR drivers transport the mail from post offices to the P&DCs.

The post offices that become spokes of an S&DC won’t need an HCR delivery or pickup, since the carriers will work directly out of the S&DC. But post offices outside of the 30-minute reach will continue to need transportation between the processing center and the post office. It’s not clear how the network transformation will impact these HCR routes, but it’s possible that the Postal Service has plans for changing the routes, contracts, and drivers.

Possible implications

The new geography of RPDC regions and LPC areas could have significant implications, but, as usual, the Postal Service has not had much to say, so at this point one can only speculate.

One possibility is that the RPDC regions will be defining features of the new USPC Connect Regional product, which promises next-day delivery for “prepared packages dropped at the Regional facility closest to the final delivery.”  This may mean that packages sent at an RPDC will be eligible for next-day delivery to addresses only within the corresponding RPDC region. Packages that need to go from one RPDC region to another would presumably be eligible for USPS Connect National, which promises 2 to 5 day delivery for ground packages.

The SCF system is used to help define service standards, rate discounts, mail preparation requirements, and so on. It’s possible that that the new system of RPDC regions will lead to significant changes in such matters. It should be noted that the Postal Regulatory Commission has not weighed in on any of this, aside from approving the new USPS Connect products.

The network transformation now underway will touch nearly every postal facility and most postal employees, in one way or another. Sorting machines and other equipment will be relocated from one facility to another, some machine operators and mail handlers will need to transfer to a different facility, letter carriers will relocate from post offices to S&DCs, clerks will be excessed and need to look for positions at other offices, HCR routes will be reconfigured to bypass spoke offices.

Redrawing the map of the SCF system by introducing RPDC regions may seem like just another element of the Delivering for America plan, but it could turn out to be one of the most far-reaching in its consequences.

— Steve Hutkins

To learn more about the network transformation, check out our S&DC dashboard.

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