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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

February 2021 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI): Largest monthly decline since the onset of pandemic

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Release Date: 24-21

 

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, declined 3.6% in February from January, falling to its lowest level since September, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The decline in February followed five consecutive months of growth.

From February 2020 to February 2021 the index fell 2.7% compared to a decline of 1.2% from February 2019 to February 2020 and an increase of 2.7% from February 2018 to February 2019 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of for-hire freight shipments in February measured by the Freight TSI (132.2) was 6.6% below the all-time high level of 141.5 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The January index was revised to 137.1 from 136.1 in last month’s release. 

 

 

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for February. The passenger index for February is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to January 2021. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for February 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 January 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 seasonal variation from month-to-month comparisons.

Analysis: The Freight TSI decreased 3.6% in February from January due to seasonally-adjusted decreases in truck tonnage, rail intermodal and rail carload, and waterborne despite growth in pipeline and air freight. The decline was driven by the severe weather events in February that impacted surface modes. The February decrease took place against the background of decline in most other indicators.

The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index shrank 2.2% in February reflecting declines of 4.1% in manufacturing and 15.3% in mining, while utilities increased 10.1%. Housing starts declined by 10.3%. Personal Income was down by 7.1% reflecting a sharp decline in the number of checks sent to households as part of the December 2020 COVID relief bill. The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was up 2.1 points to 60.8, indicating growing strength in manufacturing.

Although the February Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the January index is now being released. The index increased 7.6% from December to January following a decrease of 0.9% in December. Air passenger, transit, and rail passenger all grew. The Passenger TSI remains above the levels of April 2020 through December 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 11th consecutive month. 

Trend: The February decline was the largest monthly decrease since April 2020, and was the second largest decrease since March 2009. The freight TSI is now below its level of October 2020. The index is 6.5% below its record level of 141.5 in August 2019 and has decreased in seven of the last 18 months since that peak. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in February 2021 (132.2) were 39.3% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The February 2021 level was 6.6% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.5) (Table 1A).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 1.8% in February compared to the end of 2020 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 8.6% in the five years from February 2016 and are up 20.6% in the 10 years from February 2011 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: February 2021 for-hire freight shipments were down 2.7% from February 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 March 2021 index is scheduled for May 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 August 2020

Percent Change from Previous Month

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

 

Freight

Index

Pct. Change 

August

131.4

-1.2

September

131.9

0.4

October

132.8

0.7

November

132.9

0.1

December

134.6

1.3

January

137.1

1.9

February

132.2

-3.6

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

133.4

January

124.0

2018

November

139.5

January

131.5

2019

August

141.5

December

136.6

2020

January

136.7

April

125.7

2021

(thru February)

January

137.1

February

132.2

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

-1.4

0.9

0.1

1.9

February

1.8

-0.8

-0.6

-3.6

March

1.2

0.4

-0.4

 

April

0.1

1.1

-7.1

 

May

0.4

-0.1

1.0

 

June

0.5

-0.4

1.3

 

July

-0.8

0.7

3.4

 

August

0.2

1.2

-1.2

 

September

1.4

-2.5

0.4

 

October

0.5

0.0

0.7

 

November

0.5

0.1

0.1

 

December

-1.6

-1.2

1.3

 

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

131.5

138.6

136.7

137.1

February

133.9

137.5

135.9

132.2

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

139.8

133.0

 

August

136.2

141.5

131.4

 

September

138.1

138.0

131.9

 

October

138.8

138.0

132.8

 

November

139.5

138.2

132.9

 

December

137.3

136.6

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 February from December of the previous year

Year

Freight

2012

-2.6

2013

3.2

2014

0.3

2015

-0.8

2016

1.0

2017

0.2

2018

0.4

2019

0.1

2020

-0.5

2021

-1.8

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 February Freight TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

 

February Freight TSI

Percent change from same month previous year

2012

111.9

2.1

2013

115.8

3.5

2014

118.1

2.0

2015

122.1

3.4

2016

121.7

-0.3

2017

124.7

2.5

2018

133.9

7.4

2019

137.5

2.7

2020

135.9

-1.2

2021

132.2

-2.7

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 (February to February)

Since February        . . .

Duration in years

Freight TSI Percent change to February 2021

2020

1

-2.7

2019

2

-3.9

2018

3

-1.3

2017

4

6.0

2016

5

8.6

2015

6

8.3

2014

7

11.9

2013

8

14.2

2012

9

18.1

2011

10

20.6

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).