Transportation Services Index

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May 2017 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI)

Release Number: 
BTS 33-17
Date: 
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 2.2 percent in May from April, rising after a two-month decline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The May 2017 index level (126.8) was 33.9 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
View Table Data
MonthFreight TSI
May-12112.7
Jun-12113.5
Jul-12113.3
Aug-12112.6
Sep-12112.0
Oct-12110.2
Nov-12112.1
Dec-12112.2
Jan-13114.1
Feb-13115.7
Mar-13115.8
Apr-13114.7
May-13115.8
Jun-13116.3
Jul-13115.9
Aug-13116.6
Sep-13116.7
Oct-13116.5
Nov-13119.0
Dec-13117.9
Jan-14115.7
Feb-14117.8
Mar-14119.5
Apr-14120.0
May-14120.5
Jun-14119.6
Jul-14120.5
Aug-14121.2
Sep-14121.3
Oct-14122.2
Nov-14123.4
Dec-14123.1
Jan-15122.5
Feb-15121.5
Mar-15122.9
Apr-15121.6
May-15122.3
Jun-15121.8
Jul-15122.7
Aug-15122.8
Sep-15122.2
Oct-15122.9
Nov-15120.8
Dec-15120.8
Jan-16122.1
Feb-16121.1
Mar-16120.3
Apr-16121.7
May-16121.7
Jun-16122.5
Jul-16125.1
Aug-16122.3
Sep-16120.9
Oct-16122.7
Nov-16123.3
Dec-16124.5
Jan-17124.1
Feb-17126.0
Mar-17124.3
Apr-17124.1
May-17126.8
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

The level of for-hire freight shipments in May measured by the Freight TSI (126.8) reached its all-time high, exceeding the previous high of 126.0 in February 2017 by 0.6 percent (Table 2A). The 2.2 percent gain from April to May was the largest month-to-month increase since the index rose 2.9 percent from November to December 2011. BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The April index was revised to 124.1 from 122.8 in last month’s release as a result of more actual air freight ton-miles than forecast.   

Monthly numbers for January through March also were revised up slightly.

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 May increase in the Freight TSI was broad based with gains in most modes, especially water and pipeline, while air freight and trucking were stable. The increase took place despite mixed performance in other indicators in May. Employment and Personal Income both grew in May, and the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index showed positive and accelerating growth.  However, housing starts declined, and the Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index was unchanged, with a decline in manufacturing offset by increases in mining and utility output.

Trend: The Freight TSI all-time high of 126.8 in May was the second time in four months but only the third time overall that the Freight TSI has exceeded 125.0. An index level of more than 125 indicates that the magnitude of freight transportation provided by the for-hire transportation industry, as measured by the TSI, was 25 percent higher than freight shipments in the base year of 2000. The new high was 0.6 percent above the previous peak of 126.0 in February 2017. The 2.2 percent gain in May from April 2017 was the largest increase since the 2.9 percent increase in December 2011. The increase came after two months of decline which followed the previous all-time high. The year-to-year growth of 4.2 percent was the largest year-to-year increase since the index rose 5.9 percent from January 2014 to January 2015. The May index was 33.9 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in May 2017 (126.8) were 33.9 percent higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.7). The May 2017 level reached its all-time high (Table 1A).

Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 1.8 percent in May compared to the end of 2016 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 12.5 percent in the five years from May 2012 and are up 15.0 percent in the 10 years from May 2007 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: May 2017 for-hire freight shipments were up 4.2 percent from May 2016 (Tables 4, 5). The 4.2 percent gain from May 2016 to May 2017 was the largest year-to-year rise since the index rose 5.9 percent from January 2014 to January 2015.

The TSI includes only domestic "for-hire" transportation operated on behalf of or by a company that provides freight or passenger transport services to external customers for a fee. According to BTS, for-hire transportation services constitute about 73 percent of total transportation services. Total transportation services include for-hire transportation and in-house transportation. In-house transportation consists of services provided by non-transportation industries for their use.

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 June 2017 index is scheduled for Aug. 9.

Passenger Index: The TSI for passengers fell 0.2 percent in May from its April level (Table 6).  The Passenger TSI May 2017 level of 126.0 was 1.4 percent above the May 2016 level (Table 7). The index is up 9.7 percent in five years and up 5.7 percent in 10 years (Table 5). The passenger TSI measures the month-to-month changes in travel that involves the services of the for-hire passenger transportation sector. The seasonally-adjusted index consists of data from air, local transit and intercity rail.

Combined Index: The combined freight and passenger TSI rose 1.4 percent in May from its April level (Table 8). The combined TSI May 2017 level of 126.7 was 3.3 percent above the May 2016 level (Table 9). The combined index is up 11.7 percent in five years and up 12.0 percent in 10 years (Table 5). The combined TSI merges the freight and passenger indexes into a single index.

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 a webinar on the TSI, see Past Webinars. For a video explanation of the TSI, see Overview of the Transportation Services Index. A BTS report explaining the TSI, Transportation Services Index and the Economy, is available for download.

Percent Change from Previous Month, (Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
View Table Data
FreightPassengerCombined
IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change
November123.30.5124.60.9123.80.7
December124.51.0124.90.2124.70.7
January124.1-0.3125.20.2124.5-0.2
February126.01.5123.4-1.4125.30.6
March124.3-1.3124.71.1124.5-0.6
April124.1-0.2126.31.3124.90.3
May126.82.2126.0-0.2126.71.4
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

View Table Data
YearMonthPeakMonthBottom
2009December101.6April94.7
2013November119.0January114.1
2014November123.4February115.7
2015March122.9November120.8
2016July125.1March120.3
2017(thru May)May126.8January124.1
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
View Table Data
2014201520162017
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-1.9-0.51.1-0.3
February1.8-0.8-0.81.5
March1.41.2-0.7-1.3
April0.4-1.11.2-0.2
May0.40.60.02.2
June-0.7-0.40.7
July0.80.72.1
August0.60.1-2.2
September0.1-0.5-1.1
October0.70.61.5
November1.0-1.70.5
December-0.20.01.0
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

View Table Data
2014201520162017
January115.7122.5122.1124.1
February117.8121.5121.1126.0
March119.5122.9120.3124.3
April120.0121.6121.7124.1
May120.5122.3121.7126.8
June119.6121.8122.5
July120.5122.7125.1
August121.2122.8122.3
September121.3122.2120.9
October122.2122.9122.7
November123.4120.8123.3
December123.1120.8124.5
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change to May from December of the previous year
View Table Data
YearFreightPassengerCombined
20080.60.90.6
2009-5.4-2.3-4.4
20104.50.73.5
2011-0.11.50.4
2012-2.1-0.6-1.6
20133.20.92.5
20142.22.12.2
2015-0.60.7-0.3
20160.7-0.10.5
20171.80.91.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the May Freight TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
View Table Data
May Freight TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2008111.41.0
200995.0-14.7
2010106.211.8
2011108.62.3
2012112.73.8
2013115.82.8
2014120.54.1
2015122.31.5
2016121.7-0.5
2017126.84.2
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent Change to 2017 (May to May)
View Table Data
Since May . . .Duration in yearsFreight TSI Percent change to May 2017Passenger TSI Percent change to May 2017Combined TSI Percent change to May 2017
201614.21.43.3
201523.73.63.8
201435.24.75.1
201349.57.89.0
2012512.59.711.7
2011616.89.814.7
2010719.413.317.5
2009833.516.828.2
2008913.87.411.8
20071015.05.712.0
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
View Table Data
2014201520162017
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January0.0-0.6-0.70.2
February0.2-0.91.0-1.4
March1.51.9-1.81.1
April-0.10.21.41.3
May0.50.10.2-0.2
June-0.60.61.4
July0.12.0-0.9
August0.5-1.9-1.7
September-0.20.41.8
October0.31.3-1.1
November-0.5-0.80.9
December0.80.60.2
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the May Passenger TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
View Table Data
May Passenger TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2008117.3-1.6
2009107.9-8.0
2010111.23.1
2011114.83.2
2012114.90.1
2013116.91.7
2014120.32.9
2015121.61.1
2016124.22.1
2017126.01.4
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
View Table Data
2014201520162017
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-1.3-0.60.5-0.2
February1.3-0.8-0.20.6
March1.51.4-1.1-0.6
April0.3-0.71.20.3
May0.40.40.11.4
June-0.7-0.10.8
July0.51.11.2
August0.6-0.5-2.1
September0.0-0.2-0.2
October0.60.80.7
November0.6-1.50.7
December0.10.20.7
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the May Combined TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
View Table Data
May Combined TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2008113.30.2
200998.8-12.8
2010107.89.1
2011110.52.5
2012113.42.6
2013116.22.5
2014120.53.7
2015122.11.3
2016122.60.4
2017126.73.3
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

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).