Transportation Services Index

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March 2018 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI)

Release Number: 
BTS 24-18

Date: Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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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 1.4 percent in March from February, rising for the second consecutive month to reach an all-time high. The March 2018 index level (130.8) was 38.0 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
Mar-13115.6
Apr-13114.4
May-13115.7
Jun-13116.4
Jul-13116.0
Aug-13116.6
Sep-13116.8
Oct-13116.6
Nov-13118.7
Dec-13117.7
Jan-14116.1
Feb-14117.1
Mar-14119.3
Apr-14119.8
May-14120.4
Jun-14119.9
Jul-14120.5
Aug-14121.2
Sep-14121.6
Oct-14122.3
Nov-14122.9
Dec-14122.9
Jan-15123.0
Feb-15124.3
Mar-15118.0
Apr-15119.1
May-15119.7
Jun-15117.4
Jul-15118.2
Aug-15118.9
Sep-15118.7
Oct-15117.7
Nov-15119.7
Dec-15117.8
Jan-16120.2
Feb-16118.4
Mar-16117.5
Apr-16119.0
May-16118.9
Jun-16120.4
Jul-16122.2
Aug-16119.7
Sep-16118.9
Oct-16120.0
Nov-16120.3
Dec-16121.4
Jan-17121.8
Feb-17122.5
Mar-17121.2
Apr-17121.2
May-17124.0
Jun-17123.8
Jul-17126.0
Aug-17126.1
Sep-17125.9
Oct-17127.5
Nov-17128.0
Dec-17129.9
Jan-18127.6
Feb-18129.0
Mar-18130.8

The level of for-hire freight shipments in March measured by the Freight TSI (130.8) reached its all-time high, 0.7 percent above the previous high in December 2017 (129.9) (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical .

The February index was revised to 129.0 from 127.6 in last month’s release.  The January index remains unchanged from last month’s release.

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 March increase of 1.4 percent in the Freight TSI was broad based, with increases in all modes except pipeline, which was stable. The TSI increase took place against a background of mostly positive results for other indicators. The  rose by 0.5 percent in December, with significant increases in mining and utilities and a very small increase in manufacturing.  and housing starts grew while the fell to 59.3, indicating decelerating growth.

Both the Freight TSI and GDP rose in each of the last four quarters although GDP generally grew faster. Just before those increases began, in the first quarter of 2017, GDP grew more slowly (only 1.2 percent), while the Freight TSI declined. GDP growth exceeded Freight TSI growth by 1.0 percentage points in the second quarter of 2017 and by 1.5 points in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Freight TSI rose by 0.3 points more than GDP. Growth in both measures decelerated again in the first quarter of 2018 with the TSI 0.7 percent rise trailing the GDP 2.3 percent growth rate by 1.6 points.:

Trend: The Freight TSI’s new all-time high of 130.8 in March, 0.7 percent above the previous all-time high in December 2017, was 5.2 percent higher than the pre-2017 high of 124.3 and 7.9 percent higher than the March 2017 level of 121.2. The levels for the last nine months, since July 2017, have equaled or exceeded 126.0, higher by 1.4 percent than in any month prior to July 2017. On a quarterly basis, the index rose in each of the four quarters over the last year. This streak was the longest sequence of quarterly increases in four years. The 7.9 percent rise over the most recent four quarters was the largest four-quarter increase in eight years. The growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018 was, however, a slowdown from the previous three quarterly increases. The March index was 38.0 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession. For additional historical data, go to .

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in March 2018 (130.8) were 38.0 percent higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.8). The March 2018 level reached its all-time high.

Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 0.7 percent in March compared to the end of 2017 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 13.1 percent in the five years from March 2013 and are up 19.2 percent in the 10 years from March 2008 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: March 2018 for-hire freight shipments were up 7.9 percent from March 2017 (Tables 4, 5).

1st quarter changes: The freight TSI rose 0.7 percent in the 1st quarter, the fourth consecutive quarterly rise. The growth was down from the fourth quarter of 2017 when the index rose 3.2 percent. (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 April 2018 index is scheduled for June 13.

Passenger Index: The TSI for passengers rose 0.2 percent in March from its February level (Table 6).  The Passenger TSI March 2018 level of 128.0 was two percent above the March 2017 level (Table 7). The index is up 10.2 percent in five years and up 9.6 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 one percent in March from its February level (Table 8). The combined TSI March 2018 level of 129.9 was 5.9 percent above the March 2017 level (Table 9). The combined index is up 12.1 percent in five years and up 16.0 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 Transportation Services Index and the Economy, 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 , which includes freight, passenger and combined TSI, and which makes it possible to easily graph TSI alongside the other series in that database. See .   

Percent Change from Previous Month, (Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
FreightPassengerCombined
IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change IndexPct. Change
September125.9-0.2123.7-2.4125.2-0.9
October127.51.3127.53.1127.51.8
November128.00.4128.30.6128.10.5
December129.91.5127.5-0.6129.10.8
January127.6-1.8127.0-0.4127.4-1.3
February129.01.1127.70.6128.60.9
March130.81.4128.00.2129.91.0
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

YearMonthPeakMonthBottom
2009December101.6April94.8
2014November122.9January116.1
2015February124.3June117.4
2016July122.2March117.5
2017December129.9August121.2
2018(thru March)March130.8January127.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
2015201620172018
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January0.12.00.3-1.8
February1.1-1.50.61.1
March-5.1-0.8-1.11.4
April0.91.30.0
May0.5-0.12.3
June-1.91.3-0.2
July0.71.51.8
August0.6-2.00.1
September-0.2-0.7-0.2
October-0.80.91.3
November1.70.20.4
December-1.60.91.5
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

2015201620172018
January123.0120.2121.8127.6
February124.3118.4122.5129.0
March118.0117.5121.2130.8
April119.1119.0121.2
May119.7118.9124.0
June117.4120.4123.8
July118.2122.2126.0
August118.9119.7126.1
September118.7118.9125.9
October117.7120.0127.5
November119.7120.3128.0
December117.8121.4129.9
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change to March from December of the previous year
YearFreightPassengerCombined
2009-4.5-1.7-3.8
20103.80.32.8
20112.00.31.5
2012-2.90.3-2.0
20133.00.32.2
20141.41.81.5
2015-4.00.5-2.6
2016-0.3-1.5-0.7
2017-0.20.20.0
20180.70.40.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the March Freight TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
March Freight TSIPercent change from same month previous year
200995.8-12.7
2010105.510.1
2011110.95.1
2012111.70.7
2013115.63.5
2014119.33.2
2015118.0-1.1
2016117.5-0.4
2017121.23.1
2018130.87.9
Notes: 

Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent Change to 2018 (March to March)
Since March . . .Duration in yearsFreight TSI Percent change to March 2018Passenger TSI Percent change to March 2018Combined TSI Percent change to March 2018
201717.92.05.9
2016211.34.49.0
2015310.85.59.1
201449.66.88.6
2013513.110.212.1
2012617.110.315.0
2011717.912.916.3
2010824.015.621.3
2009936.518.030.6
20081019.29.616.0
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change from previous month
2015201620172018
% Change% Change% Change% Change
January-0.4-0.40.7-0.4
February-0.90.8-1.70.6
March1.8-1.91.20.2
April0.21.31.2
May0.20.2-0.2
June0.10.80.8
July2.2-0.5-0.2
August-1.4-1.2-0.5
September0.21.6-2.4
October1.1-1.33.1
November-0.80.80.6
December0.80.4-0.6
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the March Passenger TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
March Passenger TSIPercent change from same month previous year
2009108.5-7.1
2010110.72.0
2011113.42.4
2012116.02.3
2013116.20.2
2014119.93.2
2015121.31.2
2016122.61.1
2017125.52.4
2018128.02.0
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-0.11.20.5-1.3
February0.4-0.7-0.20.9
March-2.9-1.2-0.21.0
April0.71.30.3
May0.40.11.5
June-1.21.10.2
July1.20.81.1
August-0.1-1.8-0.1
September-0.10.1-0.9
October-0.20.21.8
November0.90.40.5
December-0.80.70.8
Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Percent change in the March Combined TSI, (Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
March Combined TSIPercent change from same month previous year
200999.5-11.2
2010107.17.6
2011111.74.3
2012113.01.2
2013115.92.6
2014119.63.2
2015119.1-0.4
2016119.20.1
2017122.72.9
2018129.95.9
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
2009-4.50.33.62.0
20103.80.90.71.4
20112.0-0.61.23.1
2012-2.91.7-1.40.2
20133.00.70.30.8
20141.40.51.41.1
2015-4.0-0.51.1-0.8
2016-0.32.5-1.22.1
2017-0.22.11.73.2
20180.7
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
20110.30.70.80.4
20120.3-0.70.40.2
20130.31.2-0.30.4
20141.8-0.50.60.6
20150.50.51.01.1
2016-1.52.4-0.1-0.1
20170.21.8-3.13.1
20180.4
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
2009-3.80.32.81.6
20102.80.90.81.0
20111.5-0.21.02.4
2012-2.01.0-0.80.2
20132.20.80.20.7
20141.50.21.20.9
2015-2.6-0.21.0-0.1
2016-0.72.4-0.91.4
20170.02.00.13.1
20180.6
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: Wednesday, May 9, 2018
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