What’s a ‘Star Route?’

This colorful term stems from the mid-1800s, when the nation’s frontiers were rapidly expanding and the United States Post Office was struggling to expand with it. When delivering to far-flung regions, the post office often had to entrust the mail to stagecoaches, sometimes with unreliable results and usually for exorbitant fees. 

Congress decided to rectify this problem on March 3, 1845, when it passed a law mandating that mail contracts go to the lowest bidder who could give assurances of quick and reliable delivery. Congress framed this obligation in three words: “celerity, certainty and security.”
Postal clerks of the era used those same three words to denote contract delivery routes in their ledgers, but quickly tired of the repetition and replaced them with three stars, giving rise to the term “star route.”

Star routes were formally renamed Highway Contract Routes in 1970, but the original term is still used today.

When was NSRMCA founded and who are its members today?

Founded in June 1935, the National Star Route Mail Contractors Association (NSRMCA) is the trade association for these Postal Service contractors and the surface transportation network. Its mission is to represent the diverse interests of postal contractors and support them in the fast-moving world of mail transportation. 

Association members range from sole proprietors to some of the largest transportation companies in the nation. They provide services at every point in the supply chain, including final-mile delivery, regional and long-haul shipping, intermodal transportation, and national sorting centers. Collectively, association members manage more than $2 billion-worth of postal contracts.

How large is the Postal Service contracting industry?

In 2021, the Postal Service spent more than $5 billion contracting with over-the-road transportation companies to move the mail throughout the United States. That surface transportation network consists of more than 1,800 suppliers, in addition to 5,500 final-mile delivery contractors. As the Postal Service moves more volume to the ground as part of the Delivering for America plan, the Postal Service will likely spend significantly more on surface transportation contracting.

How is postal contracting different from other types of transportation?

Postal Service contractors are required to comply with regulations, requirements, and business practices specific to the industry that transportation companies will not find elsewhere. Some of those regulations, requirements, and business practices are:

  • Compliance with the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA)
  • Strict driver screening requirements to access Postal Service facilities
  • Demanding delivery schedules and on-time delivery standards
  • Long-term contracts

At the same time, however, Postal Service contractors are more diverse than ever as new companies enter the network to capitalize on the opportunity to grow their business via Postal Service operational changes.

What type of transportation services do postal contractors provide?

Although the Postal Service has changed the way it contracts over time, and continues to explore new ways to leverage the expertise of the transportation industry, there are six basic types of contracts today:

  • Contract Deliver Service (CDS) contracts: final-mile delivery
  • Local Distribution Transportation (LDT) contracts: transporting mail between Postal Service facilities, often less than 300 miles away.
  • Local Route Optimization (LRO) contracts: previously known as Dynamic Route Optimization (DRO) contracts.
  • Process Network Transportation (PNT) contracts: long-haul transportation
  • Surface Transfer Center (STC) contracts: mail sorting facilities
  • Terminal Handling Services (THS) contracts: intermodal movement of mail from the air to the ground network

Who can be a member of NSRMCA?

Any company or individual involved in the movement of the mail can be a NSRMCA member. Neither you nor your company needs to have been directly awarded a Postal Service contract.

NSRMCA also offers Affiliate and Associate Membership. Affiliate Memberships are reserved for companies that support Postal Service contractors. Associate Memberships are reserved for companies that are exploring getting involved in Postal Service contracting.

For more information about NSRMCA membership, please contact:

Greg Reed, NSRMCA Executive Director: GregReed@nsrmca.org

Lynn Watson, NSRMCA Accounting and Membership Services: LWatson@nsrmca.org