Transportation Services Index

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September 2018 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI)

Release Number: 
BTS-52-18
Date: Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 0.3 percent in September from August, falling after a one-month increase. The September 2018 index level (134.9) was 42.3 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
MonthFreight TSI
Sep-13116.6
Oct-13116.5
Nov-13118.9
Dec-13117.7
Jan-14115.9
Feb-14117.9
Mar-14119.5
Apr-14120.0
May-14120.5
Jun-14119.5
Jul-14120.4
Aug-14121.1
Sep-14121.4
Oct-14122.2
Nov-14123.3
Dec-14122.9
Jan-15122.8
Feb-15121.9
Mar-15123.1
Apr-15122.0
May-15122.3
Jun-15121.7
Jul-15122.6
Aug-15122.9
Sep-15122.7
Oct-15122.9
Nov-15121.0
Dec-15120.7
Jan-16122.8
Feb-16121.7
Mar-16120.8
Apr-16122.6
May-16122.1
Jun-16122.7
Jul-16125.1
Aug-16122.7
Sep-16121.8
Oct-16122.9
Nov-16123.7
Dec-16124.3
Jan-17124.6
Feb-17126.4
Mar-17124.8
Apr-17125.0
May-17127.3
Jun-17125.9
Jul-17128.9
Aug-17129.2
Sep-17128.9
Oct-17130.7
Nov-17131.8
Dec-17133.0
Jan-18130.2
Feb-18132.8
Mar-18134.6
Apr-18134.3
May-18135.7
Jun-18136.1
Jul-18135.2
Aug-18135.3
Sep-18134.9
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Despite the month-to-month decline, the level of for-hire freight shipments in September measured by the Freight TSI was up 4.7 percent from September 2017 (Table 4) and was at its fifth highest all-time level. The index was 1.4 percent higher than the level of any month prior to 2018 and 7.8 percent higher than the level of any month prior to 2017.

The Freight TSI (134.9) was 0.9 percent below the all-time high level of 136.1 in June 2018 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The August index (135.3) remains unchanged from last month’s release.  Monthly numbers for January, April, and June were revised down slightly.  February was revised up slightly.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) 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 September decrease of 0.3 percent was driven by declines in trucking, pipeline, rail carload and air freight while water and rail intermodal increased. The TSI decrease took place against a background of mostly positive results for other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.3 percent in September, with increases in mining and manufacturing but stability in utilities. More than half of the tonnage moved by rail is from mining, not including oil and gas, according to the 2012 Commodity Flow Survey. Personal income grew, but housing starts declined. The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing index declined, indicating continued but decelerating growth.  The third-quarter Freight TSI decline of 0.9 percent contrasted with 3.5 percent growth in GDP during the quarter.

Trend: The 0.3 percent decline in September following an increase in the previous month left it 0.2 below its level of July, and 0.9 percent below its record high of 136.1 in June. The Freight TSI has now declined in two of the last three months. The September level was the lowest since April, but remained higher than it had been at any time prior to May. Since March, the Freight TSI has been higher than at any earlier time.  During these seven months, the index was 6.3 percent higher than the same seven months in 2017 and 10.3 percent higher than the comparable period in 2016.

The decline of 0.9 percent in the third quarter of 2018 was the first quarterly decline in the Freight TSI since the third quarter of 2016, and the largest quarterly decline since the fourth quarter of 2015. The September index was 42.3 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 September 2018 (134.9) were 42.3 percent higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.8). The September 2018 level was 0.9 percent below the historic peak reached in June 2018 (136.1).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 1.4 percent in September compared to the end of 2017 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 15.7 percent in the five years from September 2013 and are up 25.6 percent in the 10 years from September 2008 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: September 2018 for-hire freight shipments were up 4.7 percent from September 2017 (Tables 4, 5).

3rd quarter changes: The freight TSI fell 0.9 percent in the 3rd quarter, the first quarterly decline since the third quarter of 2016. The index rose for seven consecutive quarters before the decline in the July-September quarter (Table 10).  

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 2018 index is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Passenger Index: The TSI for passengers fell 0.1 percent in September from its August level (Table 6). The Passenger TSI September 2018 level of 130.9 was 5.2 percent above the September 2017 level (Table 7). The index is up 11.5 percent in five years and up 16.8 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 fell 0.2 percent in September from its August level (Table 8). The combined TSI September 2018 level of 133.6 was 4.9 percent above the September 2017 level (Table 9). The combined index is up 14.3 percent in five years and up 22.6 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 Transportation Services Index and the Economy, 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.   

Percent Change from Previous Month, (Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
FreightPassengerCombined
IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change
March134.61.4128.60.3132.61.0
April134.3-0.2129.60.8132.80.2
May135.71.0130.40.6134.00.9
June136.10.3131.40.8134.60.4
July135.2-0.7131.40.0134.0-0.4
August135.30.1131.0-0.3133.9-0.1
September134.9-0.3130.9-0.1133.6-0.2
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

YearMonthPeakMonthBottom
2009December101.6April94.8
2014November123.3January115.9
2015March123.1December120.7
2016July125.1March120.8
2017December133.0January124.6
2018(thru September)June136.1January130.2
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
2015201620172018
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-0.11.70.2-2.1
February-0.7-0.91.42.0
March1.0-0.7-1.31.4
April-0.91.50.2-0.2
May0.2-0.41.81.0
June-0.50.5-1.10.3
July0.72.02.4-0.7
August0.2-1.90.20.1
September-0.2-0.7-0.2-0.3
October0.20.91.4
November-1.50.70.8
December-0.20.50.9
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

2015201620172018
January122.8122.8124.6130.2
February121.9121.7126.4132.8
March123.1120.8124.8134.6
April122.0122.6125.0134.3
May122.3122.1127.3135.7
June121.7122.7125.9136.1
July122.6125.1128.9135.2
August122.9122.7129.2135.3
September122.7121.8128.9134.9
October122.9122.9130.7
November121.0123.7131.8
December120.7124.3133.0
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change to September from December of the previous year
YearFreightPassengerCombined
2009-0.8-0.8-0.8
20105.52.54.7
20112.51.82.3
2012-2.60.0-1.8
20133.91.33.1
20143.12.12.8
2015-0.22.20.6
20160.91.11.0
20173.7-0.82.2
20181.42.71.8
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the September Freight TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
September Freight TSIPercent change from same month previous year
200999.6-7.3
2010107.27.6
2011111.54.0
2012112.00.4
2013116.64.1
2014121.44.1
2015122.71.1
2016121.8-0.7
2017128.95.8
2018134.94.7
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent Change to 2018 (September to September)
Since September . . .Duration in yearsFreight TSI Percent change to September 2018Passenger TSI Percent change to September 2018Combined TSI Percent change to September 2018
201714.75.24.9
2016210.84.08.4
201539.96.18.6
2014411.18.910.3
2013515.711.514.3
2012620.413.118.0
2011721.013.718.7
2010825.815.622.5
2009935.419.530.2
20081025.616.822.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
2015201620172018
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-0.5-0.60.4-0.7
February-0.61.5-1.01.3
March1.6-2.20.80.3
April0.11.11.00.8
May0.20.2-0.20.6
June0.00.60.30.8
July2.2-0.40.10.0
August-1.3-0.9-0.1-0.3
September0.51.9-2.0-0.1
October0.8-1.82.4
November-0.81.00.6
December0.90.5-0.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the September Passenger TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
September Passenger TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2009109.5-2.3
2010113.23.4
2011115.11.7
2012115.70.5
2013117.41.5
2014120.22.4
2015123.42.7
2016125.92.0
2017124.4-1.2
2018130.95.2
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
2015201620172018
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-0.20.90.3-1.7
February-0.7-0.10.61.8
March1.2-1.2-0.61.0
April-0.61.30.50.2
May0.2-0.21.20.9
June-0.30.6-0.70.4
July1.21.11.7-0.4
August-0.2-1.60.1-0.1
September0.00.2-0.9-0.2
October0.40.01.8
November-1.30.70.7
December0.10.50.5
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the September Combined TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
September Combined TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2009102.6-5.9
2010109.16.3
2011112.63.2
2012113.20.5
2013116.93.3
2014121.13.6
2015123.01.6
2016123.20.2
2017127.43.4
2018133.64.9
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter
Year1st Quarter (Jan-Mar) % Growth2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep) % Growth4th Quarter (Oct-Dec) % Growth
2009-4.60.33.62.0
20103.80.90.71.5
20112.0-0.61.13.1
2012-2.91.6-1.30.2
20133.10.50.30.9
20141.50.01.61.2
20150.2-1.10.8-1.6
20160.11.6-0.72.1
20170.40.92.43.2
20181.21.1-0.9
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter
Year1st Quarter (Jan-Mar) % Growth2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep) % Growth4th Quarter (Oct-Dec) % Growth
2009-1.70.00.90.8
20100.31.01.3-0.1
20110.30.70.80.5
20120.3-0.70.40.2
20130.21.3-0.20.3
20141.8-0.50.80.4
20150.50.31.40.9
2016-1.42.00.6-0.4
20170.21.1-2.02.4
20180.92.2-0.4
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter
Year1st Quarter (Jan-Mar) % Growth2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep) % Growth4th Quarter (Oct-Dec) % Growth
2009-3.70.22.81.6
20102.80.90.90.9
20111.5-0.20.92.4
2012-1.90.9-0.80.2
20132.20.70.20.8
20141.6-0.21.31.0
20150.2-0.71.0-0.8
2016-0.41.7-0.31.2
20170.31.00.93.0
20181.11.5-0.7
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: Tuesday, April 9, 2019