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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

CORRECTED: January 2021 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) Rose 1.1% from December

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Release Number: BTS 17-21 Corrected 

                                                                                                       

The numbers in this release are corrected from the release issued on March 10 in which the December index number was incorrect.

 

 

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 1.1% in January from the corrected December level, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). From January 2020 to January 2021 the index fell 0.2% compared to a decline of 1.4% from January 2019 to January 2020 and a rise of 5.3% from January 2018 to January 2019 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

 

Corrections to the Freight Transportation Services Index Release March 30, 2021

 

March 10 Release

Corrected Release

December Index

       141.3

                 134.6

January Index

       136.2

                    136.1

Nov-Dec change

6.5%

1.5%

Dec-Jan change

-3.6%

1.1%

Dec19-Dec20 change

3.4%

-1.5%

Jan20-Jan21 change

-0.1%

-0.2%

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

 

The level of for-hire freight shipments in January measured by the Freight TSI (136.1) was 3.8% below the all-time high level of 141.5 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

 

Data revisions due to changes in source data from previous months: The December index was revised to 134.6 from 136.3 in last month’s release following a downward revision in truck tonnage. Monthly numbers for January, May, August, and November 2020 were revised down slightly. February, September, and October 2020 were revised up slightly. The revisions were released previously in the March 10 release.

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 is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for January. The passenger index for January is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to December 2020. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for January 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 December 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 seasonal variation from month-to-month comparisons.

Analysis: The Freight TSI rose 1.1% in January from December due to seasonally-adjusted increases in truck tonnage, rail intermodal and rail carload, and waterborne despite declines in pipeline and air freight. The January increase took place against the background of mixed results in other indicators.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 1.8 points to 58.7, indicating slowing growth in manufacturing. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 0.9% in December reflecting increases of 1.0% in manufacturing and 2.3% in mining, while utilities were down 1.2%. Housing starts declined by 6.0%. Personal Income rose 10.0% reflecting payments associated with the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the January Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the December index is now being released. The index decreased 2.6% from November to December following an increase of 17.8% in November. The Passenger TSI remains above the levels of April 2020 through October 2020 though it has not returned to its level in March 2020, the first month of pandemic impact. It remained below any level the Passenger TSI had been before the pandemic for the 10th consecutive month. Air passenger and rail passenger decreased in December, but transit grew.

Trend: The January rise followed an increase of 1.5% in December. The freight TSI is now above any level from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 through December. It is 0.2% below January 2020 and 3.8% below its record level of 141.5 in August 2019. The index has decreased in nine of the last 17 months since that peak. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in January 2021 (136.1) were 43.4% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The January 2021 level was 3.8% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.5) (Table 1A).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 11.3% in the five years from January 2016 and are up 23.6% in the 10 years from January 2011 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: January 2021 for-hire freight shipments were down 0.2% from January 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 February 2021 index is scheduled for April 14.

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 July 2020

Percent Change from Previous Month

(Seasonally-Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)

 

Freight

Index

Pct. Change 

July

132.9

3.3

August

131.5

-1.1

September

132.0

0.4

October

132.9

0.7

November

132.6

-0.2

December

134.6

1.5

January

136.1

1.1

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

 

 

Table 1A: Annual High and Low Points in Freight Transportation Services Index, 2009-2021

Year

 

Month

Peak

Month

Bottom

2009

December

101.8

April

94.9

2017

December

133.5

January

124.0

2018

November

139.3

January

131.4

2019

August

141.5

December

136.7

2020

January

136.4

April

125.7

2021

(thru January)

January

136.1

January

136.1

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

 

Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2018-2021

Percent change from previous month

 

2018

2019

2020

2021

 

% Change

% Change

% Change

% Change

January

-1.6

0.7

-0.2

1.1

February

2.0

-0.5

-0.1

 

March

1.1

0.3

-0.7

 

April

0.1

1.1

-7.1

 

May

0.4

-0.1

1.0

 

June

0.5

-0.4

1.3

 

July

-0.8

0.6

3.3

 

August

0.2

1.3

-1.1

 

September

1.4

-2.5

0.4

 

October

0.5

0.0

0.7

 

November

0.4

-0.1

-0.2

 

December

-1.4

-0.9

1.5

 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

 

Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2018-2021

 

2018

2019

2020

2021

January

131.4

138.4

136.4

136.1

February

134.0

137.7

136.3

 

March

135.5

138.1

135.3

 

April

135.7

139.6

125.7

 

May

136.3

139.4

126.9

 

June

137.0

138.8

128.6

 

July

135.9

139.7

132.9

 

August

136.2

141.5

131.5

 

September

138.1

138.0

132.0

 

October

138.8

138.0

132.9

 

November

139.3

137.9

132.6

 

December

137.4

136.7

134.6

 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

 

Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2012-2021

Percent change to January from December of the previous year

Year

Freight

2012

-3.0

2013

1.9

2014

-1.4

2015

-0.2

2016

1.6

2017

-0.4

2018

-1.6

2019

0.7

2020

-0.2

2021

1.1

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

 

Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year

Percent Change in the January Freight TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

 

January Freight TSI

Percent change from same month previous year

2012

111.5

1.3

2013

114.3

2.5

2014

116.1

1.6

2015

122.8

5.8

2016

122.3

-0.4

2017

124.0

1.4

2018

131.4

6.0

2019

138.4

5.3

2020

136.4

-1.4

2021

136.1

-0.2

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

 

 

Table 5: Freight Transportation Services Index from Previous Years

Percent Change to 2021 (January to January)

Since January        . . .

Duration in years

Freight TSI Percent change to January 2021

2020

1

-0.2

2019

2

-1.7

2018

3

3.6

2017

4

9.8

2016

5

11.3

2015

6

10.8

2014

7

17.2

2013

8

19.1

2012

9

22.1

2011

10

23.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

 

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).