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August 2020 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) Down 1.3% from July

Release Number: 
BTS 68-20
Date: Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 1.3% in August from revised July, declining after two months of increases, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From August 2019 to August 2020, the index fell 7.4% compared to a rise of 3.9% from August 2018 to August 2019 and a rise of 5.7% from August 2017 to August 2018 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
MonthFreight TSI
Aug-15123.2
Sep-15123.3
Oct-15122.8
Nov-15120.9
Dec-15120.5
Jan-16122.3
Feb-16121.8
Mar-16120.6
Apr-16123.0
May-16122.3
Jun-16123.1
Jul-16125.7
Aug-16123.6
Sep-16122.3
Oct-16123.1
Nov-16123.2
Dec-16124.6
Jan-17124.0
Feb-17124.7
Mar-17125.0
Apr-17125.5
May-17125.8
Jun-17126.1
Jul-17128.4
Aug-17129.0
Sep-17128.6
Oct-17130.0
Nov-17131.6
Dec-17133.6
Jan-18131.5
Feb-18133.8
Mar-18135.5
Apr-18135.7
May-18136.3
Jun-18137.2
Jul-18135.8
Aug-18136.3
Sep-18137.8
Oct-18138.9
Nov-18139.3
Dec-18137.5
Jan-19138.7
Feb-19137.4
Mar-19138.1
Apr-19139.5
May-19139.4
Jun-19139.0
Jul-19139.5
Aug-19141.6
Sep-19137.6
Oct-19138.1
Nov-19138.0
Dec-19136.6
Jan-20136.9
Feb-20136.1
Mar-20135.3
Apr-20125.6
May-20127.0
Jun-20128.8
Jul-20132.8
Aug-20131.1
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

The level of for-hire freight shipments in August measured by the Freight TSI (131.1) was 7.4% below the all-time high level of 141.6 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The July index was revised to 132.8 from 128.9 in last month’s release. This was largely due to a revision in the (non-seasonally adjusted) ATA truck tonnage index from an advanced estimate of a 2.5% decrease, to a final estimate of a 1.3% increase.   Monthly numbers for May and June were revised up slightly. March and April were revised down slightly.

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for August. The passenger index for August is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to July 2020. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for August 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 July 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 decreased 1.3% in August from July due to declines in water, pipeline and trucking, despite growth in rail intermodal, rail carload, and air freight. The August decrease took place against the background of mixed results in other indicators.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was up by 1.8 points to 56.0, indicating accelerating growth in manufacturing.  The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 0.4% in August reflecting an increase of 1.0% in manufacturing, while mining decreased by  2.5% and utilities by 0.4%. Housing starts declined by 22.6%.

Personal Income was down 2.7%, more than accounted for by decreased unemployment insurance benefits, as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the August Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating air passenger miles and other modes, the July index is now being released. The index increased 37.5% from June to July, the third consecutive increase following three months of decline, which left it below any level the Passenger TSI had been before the pandemic for the fifth consecutive month. Air passenger and transit were up in July, but rail passenger decreased.

Trend: The August decrease in the Freight index followed three consecutive monthly increases. The index has now declined in four of the eight months of 2020, for a total decrease of 4% in 2020.  The index remained 3.7% below its pre-pandemic level in February, and 4.2% below its recent peak in January. However, it is 4.4% above its pandemic low point in April.  It is now 7.4% below its all-time high in August 2019. The index was below the levels of every month from November 2017 to March 2020 for the fifth consecutive month. However, it was above every level before August 2017 when the index reached 129.0. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in August 2020 (131.1) were 38.1% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The August 2020 level was 7.4% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.6) (Table 1A).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 4.0% in August compared to the end of 2019 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 6.4% in the five years from August 2015 and are up 22.6% in the 10 years from August 2010 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: August 2020 for-hire freight shipments were down 7.4% from August 2019 (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 September 2020 index is scheduled for Nov. 12.

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 February 2020
Percent Change from Previous Month
(Seasonally-Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
 IndexPct. Change
February136.1-0.6
March135.3-0.6
April125.6-7.2
May127.01.1
June128.81.4
July132.83.1
August131.11.3

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, 2009-2020

YearMonthPeakMonthBottom
2009December101.8April94.9
2016July125.7March120.6
2017December133.6January124.0
2018November139.3January131.5
2019August141.6December136.6
2020 (thru August)January136.9April125.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

 
Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2017-2020
Percent change from previous month
 
2017
% Change
2018
% Change
2019
% Change
2020
% Change
January
-0.5
-1.6
0.9
0.2
February
0.6
1.7
-0.9
0.6
March
0.2
1.3
0.5
-0.6
April
0.4
0.1
1.0
-7.2
May
0.2
0.4
-0.1
1.1
June
0.2
0.7
-0.3
1.4
July
1.8
-1.0
0.4
3.1
August
0.5
0.4
1.5
-1.3
September
-0.3
1.1
-2.8
 
October
1.1
0.8
0.4
 
November
1.2
0.3
-0.1
 
December1.5-1.3-1.0 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2017-2020

 2017201820192020
January
124.0
131.5
138.7
136.9
February
124.7
133.8
137.4
136.1
March
125.0
135.5
138.1
135.3
April
125.5
135.7
139.5
125.6
May
125.8
136.3
139.4
127.0
June
126.1
137.2
139.0
128.8
July
128.4
135.8
139.5
132.8
August
129.0
136.3
141.6
131.1
September
128.6
137.8
137.6
 
October
130.0
138.9
138.1
 
November
131.6
139.3
138.0
 
December133.6137.5136.6 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

 
Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2011-2020
Percent change to August from December of the previous year
YearFreight
20111.7
2012-1.8
20133.8
20142.5
20150.2
20162.6
20173.5
20182.0
20193.0
2020-4.0

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year
Percent Change in the August Freight TSI
(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
 
August Freight
TSI
Percent change
from same month
previous year
2011110.73.6
2012112.81.9
2013116.53.3
2014120.83.7
2015123.22.0
2016123.60.3
2017129.04.4
2018136.35.7
2019141.63.9
2020131.1-7.4

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 2020 (August to August)
Since
August
...
Duration in
years
Freight TSI Percent
change to August
2020
20191-7.4
20182-3.8
201731.6
201646.1
201556.4
201468.5
2013712.5
2012816.2
2011918.4
20101022.6

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).

Updated: Thursday, October 15, 2020