Delivery Drivers Can’t Find Your House Number: ‘I Took My Best Guess and Left It There.’ | Kanebridge News
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Delivery Drivers Can’t Find Your House Number: ‘I Took My Best Guess and Left It There.’

Seasonal workers delivering holiday packages hunt for house numbers

Fri, Dec 23, 2022 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

With one click, shoppers expect items to be shipped to them with alacrity and precision, across continents and oceans. Why then, do so many people make it hard for delivery drivers to find their homes?

Tiny house numbers, perhaps OK for hawks or eagles but not human drivers in a moving vehicle, are among the top pet peeves, drivers say. So are Christmas decorations or snow blotting out mailbox numbers. House numbers spelled out in cursive are a pain.

Ditto for those in Roman numerals: Time is lost when workers have to drive by IV or V times to find the right house.

Steve Spitler, a seasonal delivery driver covering routes south of Atlanta, recently reached a driveway that had three houses. Only one had a house number and it wasn’t the address on his package, he said.

“There was nobody home at any of the places,” said Mr. Spitler, who is in his first season as a driver. “The middle house had a large A monogram on the door and it matched the last name of the package so I took my best guess and left it there.”

During the peak delivery season, the number of daily packages can reach around 100 million, up from an average of around 62 million to 72 million in other times of the year, according to parcel analytics firm ShipMatrix Inc.

To cope, companies such as FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., and Inc. hire thousands of seasonal drivers to ferry packages from Thanksgiving until as late as mid-January.

“A lot of times the same garland covering the number covers the Ring or the doorbell. It took me a while to find it,” said Claudia Alejandra Stokes, a first-time seasonal driver in Gulfport, Miss., about a recent delivery.

It was her first day and it was getting dark, and she ended up driving up and down the street twice. “When I finally found it, the owner was actually home and she was like, oh yeah, maybe I need to fix the garland so that people can see the number. And I said, it’s OK, I’ll remember this home forever,” said Ms. Stokes.

Repeat neighbourhood visits have helped her get faster in finding the right address.

“The first week was an experience,” she said. She got to know her routes better each day and by day five, she decided the best way to run her route was to flip it. “Start in the middle with the neighbourhoods I know get real dark at night and do the well-lit neighborhoods after that,” she said.

In places where homes are miles apart, drivers say they get help—if there’s cell service—from mapping applications from Google and Apple or county tax assessor websites. When that fails, approach passersby.

“I had to walk up to Christmas carolers and ask them for directions,” said J. Christopher McGuirk, a driver working in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

It was well below zero that night, he said, and the adults had seemingly “been enjoying a little holiday liquid cheer.” Everyone was friendly when they figured out what he was doing. One caroler asked if he was freezing to death. Another pointed out the house he was looking for.

FedEx, UPS and Amazon provide drivers with their respective routing software on hand-held tablets or on drivers’ mobile phones. The software provides timesaving information such as gate and building codes, descriptors such as “blue door,” and warnings previous deliverers contributed, such as the presence of an aggressive dog.

There is a limit to how precise or updated the instructions can be, drivers say, especially when home additions such as carports block the house number from the street.

In urban areas, homes are closer together and usually in numerical order, so drivers say they can use intuition to find a poorly-marked home. When buildings, or apartments inside them, are haphazardly numbered, finding the right address can take as long as 20 minutes. Residential complexes with multiple high-rises or labyrinthine layouts present special challenges.

“Oh my gosh, yes, mobile home parks typically have 300 to 400 homes. Numbering goes from one to four hundred, not in a sequence,” said Nitin Gupta, founder of Beans.Ai, a location-intelligence company that specialises in maps for delivery drivers.

These tools are helpful, but drivers say they often have to rely on their judgment to figure things out. Some joke that homeowners are pranking them.

“I feel people are watching videos later of the old lady struggling up the drive with the huge and heavy package,” said Kimberly Thompson, a 52-year-old driver in Greenville, S.C.

Parcel carriers and retailers often get a contact number for the recipient or instructions from customers. But vague instructions such as “It’s in the back” don’t help. One frequent response: “The back of what?”

Homeowner associations can help or hurt the cause. Some have strict aesthetics rules, including limiting colours for house numbers to just a few shades darker from their background. This can make addresses less visible under certain conditions, drivers say.

The U.S. Postal Service said every curbside mailbox should have address information and be clear of leaves, ice, and snow piles.

What about houses with no numbers at all? Residents said they do get packages delivered on their doorstep.

“I’ve never thought about that,” said Andrea Christie, a resident in Milford, Pa., whose single-family home doesn’t have a visible house number. “I’m lucky I haven’t had any issues with missing packages. I guess it’s funny when it’s not your package,” she said.

Drivers celebrate homeowners who make it easier for them. Some put out a basket of snacks and drinks, and handwritten notes. Others have house numbers that are backlit to make them more visible at night or in bad weather.

“That’s really helpful,” said Ms. Stokes, adding that the lighting helps her return to her vehicle more quickly when it’s dark.


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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