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
Seasonal workers delivering holiday packages hunt for house numbers
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 Amazon.com 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.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.
Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.
All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.
How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.
The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.
Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.
Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.
In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.
A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”
Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.
Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.
Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.
Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.
Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”
The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”
Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.
Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.
But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.
The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.
It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.
Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.
A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.
Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.
“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.
Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.
Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.
The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.
So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.
Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.
Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.
Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.
But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.
Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’