Everything from mail to groceries to take out food are delivered to American homes, many times with the help of a GPS device.
As new communities pop up across the American landscape, how are addresses in those communities recognized by the Postal Service, UPS, Federal Express and other companies?
For that matter, when you move into that new townhome, can Domino’s find you?
The numbers are substantial: 1.059 million new privately owned housing units were completed in 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. While many may have been constructed on existing streets, other developments add new streets previously unknown. If an unknown street name falls in the forest, will a GPS device or software find it?
Residents of one Salt Lake City development, including this reporter, have first-hand experience. When the Tobermory Ridge development was constructed and opened in 2014, mail delivery service began quickly. Parcel service, however, was spotty at times for the first 12 to 18 months, particularly when a “regular” driver for UPS or FedEx wasn’t available.
To date, Google Maps has yet to include home addresses within the development in its online listings. A spokeswoman for the company said users can add information if it’s missing.
“The various types of data found in Google Maps come from a wide range of sources,” Elizabeth Davidoff, communications manager for Google Maps, said via email. “Our basemap data – things like place names, borders, and road networks – comes from a combination of third-party providers, public sources, and user contributions. While we regularly update the map, the amount of time it takes to update varies.”
USPS database is key
The Internet age may have rendered much of “snail mail” obsolete, but the U.S. Postal Service, once the nation’s largest employer and still an agency that touches every home six days a week, remains important in the onboarding of new addresses.
In a sharp contrast to operations nearly 50 years ago, when the federal Post Office Department became a quasi-governmental agency that no longer receives direct taxpayer subsidies, today’s mail deliveries are highly automated. Decades of the Zone Improvement Plan coding system, known as ZIP codes, have combined with bar coding to presort mail before it arrives at local post offices for distributions. Carriers receive letters and “flats,” or larger pieces such as magazines and large envelopes, already broken down for their routes.
According to Brian Sperry, a USPS spokesman in Denver, this means that new developments are brought into the automated system early in the planning process.
“We strive to have updated addresses in our system prior to any mail being sent so that we can use our automated mail sortation equipment to properly process the mail for delivery,” Sperry said.
The organization “coordinates closely with local planning authorities on the establishment of new addresses. The USPS does not determine the actual street names or house numbers but gets this info from the local authority,” he added.
Sperry said the USPS has “67 district offices throughout the country who are responsible for updating address information in our Address Management System database. As new developments are being established or permitted the local planning authority will typically inform the local AMS office that covers their area so we can add the addresses into our AMS database.”
That AMS data is made available to other companies as well, in order to update their delivery systems.
Tim McIntyre, Domino’s executive vice president for communication, investor relations and legislative affairs, said the nation’s No. 2 delivery firm obtains new AMS data from a third party vendor.
“Our supplier receives U.S. postal data monthly and we update our files monthly, which means new addresses can take between 30 and 60 days to be in our system,” McIntyre said. And while 60 days may seem to be a long while, it’s faster than some other firms.
Drivers for Atlanta-based United Parcel Service make an average of 100 delivery stops a day, a company website says. Its database holds 250 million address points, a spokesman noted.
Jack Levis, senior director of process management at UPS, told Crain’s the company’s “Package Flow Technologies” system, designed to speed deliveries and cut costs, had to let the firm get a handle on address management.
"UPS had to reconcile how to manage addresses," Levis said. "UPS does so by merging information from our drivers’ handheld computers, drivers’ knowledge, USPS addresses and other UPS address data. If any of those sources indicate a new set of addresses is needed, our team can enter the information into our address database in minutes.”
A spokesman for Memphis, Tenn.-based Federal Express did not respond to media inquiries by deadline. The firm has 1,200 stations for its air parcel business and 520 FedEx Ground delivery stations, according to an online corporate fact sheet. Globally, FedEx says it handles more than 13 million parcels daily.
While it appears that the USPS will remain a key player in delivering news about rising communities and the new street addresses they contain, experience also suggests that residents must remain vigilant. If parcels aren’t arriving when and where they should, both shipper and recipient may need to resort to another communications system, that of making a phone call.