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 Find the latest Coronavirus-related transportation statistics on the BTS COVID-19 landing page.

United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

April 2021 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) Equaled Highest Level since Start of Pandemic

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

BTS 37-21
Contact: Dave Smallen 

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 0.7% in April from revised March, rising for the second consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). 

With the April increase, the index equaled the level of January 2021, the highest since pre-pandemic November 2019.


The March index was revised to 135.9 from 130.0 in last month’s release due primarily to a 7.9% upward revision in the American Trucking Associations’ unadjusted truck tonnage index.  January was revised down slightly and February was revised up slightly. The entire series was revised to incorporate revised economic weights for 2020.

From April 2020 to April 2021 the index rose 8.9 percent compared to a decline of 9.8 percent from April 2019 to April 2020 and a rise of 2.7 percent from April 2018 to April 2019 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of for-hire freight shipments in April measured by the Freight TSI (136.8) was 3.6% below the all-time high level of 141.9 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for April. The passenger index for April is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to March 2021. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for April is also a statistical estimate. Since air freight makes up a smaller part of the freight index, the freight TSI is being released as scheduled with the air freight estimate included. The March passenger and combined indexes are available on the BTS website.

The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. The TSI is seasonally-adjusted to remove regular seasons from month-to-month comparisons.

Analysis: The Freight TSI increased 0.7% in April from March due to seasonally-adjusted increases in rail carloads, rail intermodal, pipeline and air freight, despite declines in truck and water. The April increase took place against the background of decline in most other indicators from March to April.

The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 0.7% in April reflecting increases of 0.4% in manufacturing, 0.7% in mining, and 2.6% in utilities. Housing starts were down 9.5%. Personal Income decreased by 13.1%. The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down  4.0 points to 60.7, indicating slowing growth in manufacturing.

Although the April Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the previously cited difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the March index is now being released. The index decreased 7.6% from February to March following an increase of 6.0% in February. Air passenger, passenger and transit all declined. The Passenger TSI remains above the levels of April 2020 through January 2021 though it has not returned to its level in March 2020, the last month before the impact of the pandemic. It remained below any level the Passenger TSI had been before the pandemic for the 13th consecutive month. 
Trend: The April increase was the second consecutive increase and the fourth increase in five months for a cumulative increase of 2.9% since November. The Freight TSI is above any level it attained during the COVID pandemic but is still below its level of November 2019. The index is 3.6% below its record level of 141.5 in August 2019 and has decreased in nine of the last 20 months since that peak. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in April 2021 (136.8) were 44.0% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (95.0). The April 2021 level was 3.6% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.9) (Table 1A).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 1.4% in April compared to the end of 2020 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 11.1% in the five years from April 2016 and are up 23.7% in the 10 years from April 2011 (Table 5).  

Same month of previous year: April 2021 for-hire freight shipments were up 8.9% from April 2020 (Tables 4, 5). 

The TSI has three seasonally-adjusted indexes that measure changes from the monthly average of the base year of 2000. The three indexes are freight shipments, passenger travel and a combined measure that merges the freight and passenger indexes. See Seasonally-Adjusted Transportation Data for numbers for individual modes. TSI includes data from 2000 to the present. Release of the May 2021 index is scheduled for July 14.

Revisions: Monthly data has changed from previous releases due to the use of concurrent seasonal analysis, which results in seasonal analysis factors changing as each month’s data are added.    

BTS research has shown a clear relationship between economic cycles and the Freight and Passenger Transportation Services Indexes. See a study of this relationship using smoothed and detrended TSI data. Researchers who wish to compare TSI over time with other economic indicators, can use the FRED database, which includes freight, passenger and combined TSI, and which makes it possible to easily graph TSI alongside the other series in that database. See TSI data on FRED.   

For charts and discussion on the relationship of the TSI to the economy, see Transportation as an Economic Indicator: Transportation Services Index.

A BTS report explaining the TSI, Transportation Services Index and the Economy, is available for download.

Table 1: Freight Transportation Services Index Since September 2020
Percent Change from Previous Month 
(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
Index Pct. Change  
September 132.1 0.5
October 132.9 0.6
November 132.5 -0.3
December 134.5 1.5
January 137.0 1.9
February 132.8 -3.1
March 130.0 -2.1
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.


Table 1A: Annual High and Low Points in Freight Transportation Services Index, 2009, 2017-2021
Year   Month Peak Month Bottom
2009 December 101.8 April 94.9
2017 December 133.4 January 123.9
2018 November 139.2 January 131.4
2019 August 141.5 December 136.5
2020 January 136.6 July 125.6
2021 (thru March) January 137.0 March 130.0

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2018-2021
Percent change from previous month
2018 2019 2020 2021
  % Change % Change % Change % Change
January -1.5 0.9 0.1 1.9
February 1.9 -0.7 -0.4 -3.1
March 1.2 0.5 -0.5 -2.1
April 0.1 0.9 -7.2
May 0.5 -0.1 1.0
June 0.5 -0.4 1.4
July -0.8 0.7 3.4
August 0.3 1.2 -1.1
September 1.4 -2.4 0.5
October 0.5 -0.1 0.6
November 0.2 -0.1 -0.3
December -1.4 -1.0 1.5  
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2018-2021
  2018 2019 2020 2021
January 131.4 138.5 136.6 137.0
February 133.9 137.5 136.1 132.8
March 135.5 138.2 135.4 130.0
April 135.6 139.5 125.6
May 136.3 139.4 126.8
June 137.0 138.8 128.6
July 135.9 139.8 133.0
August 136.3 141.5 131.5
September 138.2 138.1 132.1
October 138.9 138.0 132.9
November 139.2 137.9 132.5
December 137.3 136.5 134.5  
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2012-2021
Percent change to March from December of the previous year
Year Freight
2012 -2.7
2013 3.4
2014 1.8
2015 -0.1
2016 0.1
2017 0.3
2018 1.6
2019 0.7
2020 -0.8
2021 -3.3
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year
Percent change in the March Freight TSI
(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
  March Freight TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2012 111.8 0.6
2013 115.9 3.7
2014 119.9 3.5
2015 123.0 2.6
2016 120.6 -2.0
2017 124.9 3.6
2018 135.5 8.5
2019 138.2 2.0
2020 135.4 -2.0
2021 130.0 -4.0
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.
Table 5: Freight Transportation Services Index from Previous Years 
Percent Change to 2021 (March to March)
Since March        . . . Duration in years Freight TSI Percent change to March 2021
2020 1 -4.0
2019 2 -5.9
2018 3 -4.1
2017 4 4.1
2016 5 7.8
2015 6 5.7
2014 7 8.4
2013 8 12.2
2012 9 16.3
2011 10 17.0
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Table 6: Freight Transportation Services Index Change by Quarter, 2012-2021
Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter
Year 1st Quarter (Jan-Mar)         % Growth 2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun)             % Growth 3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep)                          % Growth 4th Quarter (Oct-Dec)                        % Growth
2012 -2.7 1.8 -1.6 0.1
2013 3.4 0.4 0.2 1.0
2014 1.8 -0.2 1.8 1.0
2015 -0.1 -1.1 1.6 -2.4
2016 0.1 2.1 -0.5 1.6
2017 0.3 0.9 2.3 3.5
2018 1.6 1.1 0.9 -0.7
2019 0.7 0.4 -0.5 -1.2
2020 -0.8 -5.0 2.7 1.8
2021 -3.3      
SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics


Brief Explanation of the TSI
The Transportation Services Index (TSI) is a measure of the month-to-month changes in the output of services provided by the for-hire transportation industries.  The freight index measure changes in freight shipments while the passenger index measures changes in passenger travel. 

The TSI tells us how the output of transportation services has increased or decreased from month to month. The index can be examined together with other economic indicators to produce a better understanding of the current and future course of the economy.   The movement of the index over time can be compared with other economic measures to understand the relationship of changes in transportation output to changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The freight transportation index consists of:

  • For-hire trucking,
  • Railroad freight services (including rail based intermodal shipments such as containers on flat cars),
  • Inland waterways transportation,
  • Pipeline transportation (including principally petroleum and petroleum products and natural gas), and
  • Air freight.

The index does not include international or coastal waterborne movements, private trucking, courier services, or the US Postal Service.
The passenger transportation index consists of:

  • Local transit, 
  • Intercity passenger rail, and 
  • Passenger air transportation. 

The index does not include intercity bus, sightseeing services, ferry services, taxi service, private automobile usage, or bicycling and other non-motorized transportation. 

The TSI includes only domestic "for-hire" freight and passenger transportation. For-hire transportation consists of freight or passenger transport services provided by a firm to external customers for a fee. The TSI does not include taxi services, paid ride services in personal motor vehicles (e.g., Uber, Lyft, etc.), intercity bus services, in-house transportation (vehicles owned and operated by private firms for their own use), or noncommercial passenger travel (e.g., trips in the household car).