For-hire Freight Up 0.7 Percent in December

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, reached an all-time monthly high in December, 0.7 percent higher than the previous highest level reached in November, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The December 2017 index level (132.0) was 39.4 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession.

The level of for-hire freight shipments in December measured by the Freight TSI (132.0) reached all all-time high for the third consecutive month. For the year, the index was 6.1 percent higher in December 2017 than in December 2016, the largest annual gain since 2010. BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The November index was revised to 131.1 from 130.8 in last month’s release. Monthly numbers for January through October were revised down 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 December increase in the Freight TSI was broad based, with increases in Rail Carloads, Rail Intermodal, Trucking, and Water, while Pipeline and Air Freight declined. The TSI increase took place against a background of mostly positive results for other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.9 percent in December, with significant increases in mining and utilities and a small increase in all manufacturing. Employment rose, Personal income grew and the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing index rose to 59.7, indicating accelerating growth. Meanwhile, housing starts fell by 8.2 percent.

The 2.8 percent increase in the Freight TSI in the fourth quarter was consistent with the 2.6 percent growth in GDP during the same months. GDP growth had been 3.2 percent in the third quarter and 3.1 percent in the second quarter, when the Freight TSI also grew. GDP growth was slower in the first quarter of 2017, when the Freight TSI declined.

Trend: The Freight TSI’s new all-time high of 132.0 in December, 0.7 percent above the previous all-time high in November, was the seventh record-high level in 2017. The December 2017 index was 5.7 percent higher than the pre-2017 high of 124.9 in July 2016 and 6.1 percent higher than the December 2016 level of 124.4. The December increase was the third monthly increase in succession and the third consecutive record-high level. In nine out of 12 months in 2017, the Freight TSI exceeded the record high for all months prior to 2017 (124.9 in July 2016).

Over the last nine months of 2017, the index rose 6.8 percent with three quarterly increases. The increase of 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter was the largest quarterly increase since 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013. The three consecutive quarters of growth were the longest sequence of quarterly increases since the string of nine quarterly increases from the fourth quarter of 2012 through the fourth quarter of 2014.

The December index was 39.4 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 December 2017 (132.0) were 39.4 percent higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.7). The December 2017 level reached its all-time high.

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 6.1 percent in December compared to the end of 2016 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 17.6 percent in the five years from December 2012 and are up 19.2 percent in the 10 years from December 2007 (Table 5).

Same month of previous year: December 2017 for-hire freight shipments were up 6.1 percent from December 2016 (Tables 4, 5).

Fourth quarter changes: The freight TSI rose 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the third consecutive quarterly increase (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 January index is scheduled for March 14.

Passenger Index: The TSI for passengers fell 0.2 percent in December from its November level (Table 6). The Passenger TSI December 2017 level of 127.0 was 1.6 percent above the December 2016 level (Table 7). The index is up 9.6 percent in five years and up 9.2 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 0.5 percent in December from its November level (Table 8). The combined TSI December 2017 level of 130.6 was 4.7 percent above the December 2016 level (Table 9). The combined index is up 15.2 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 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.

A BTS report explaining the TSI, Transportation Services Index and the Economy, is available for download.

Table 1: Freight, Passenger and Combined Transportation Services Indexes since June 2017

Percent Change from Previous Month

(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)

Freight Passenger Combined
Index Pct. Change Index Pct. Change Index Pct. Change
June 126.6 -0.6 127.3 0.7 126.9 -0.2
July 128.7 1.7 127.2 -0.1 128.3 1.1
August 129.0 0.2 126.5 -0.6 128.3 0.0
September 128.4 -0.5 123.6 -2.3 127.0 -1.0
October 130.3 1.5 127.1 2.8 129.4 1.9
November 131.1 0.6 127.2 0.1 129.9 0.4
December 132.0 0.7 127.0 -0.2 130.6 0.5

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding

Table 1A: Annual High and Low Points in Freight Transportation Services Index, 2009-2017

Year   Month Peak Month Bottom
2009 June 101.5 April 94.7
2013 November 119.0 January 114.2
2014 November 123.4 January 115.8
2015 October 122.9 December 120.8
2016 July 124.9 March 119.9
2017 (thru December) December 132.0 November 123.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2014-2017

Percent change from previous month

2014 2015 2016 2017
% Change % Change % Change % Change
January -1.7 -0.2 1.4 -0.2
February 1.8 -0.9 -0.9 1.5
March 1.0 0.7 -1.2 -2.0
April 0.8 -0.5 1.9 0.6
May 0.5 0.5 -0.1 2.4
June -0.7 -0.3 0.8 -0.6
July 0.5 0.3 1.5 1.7
August 0.6 0.2 -2.0 0.2
September 0.2 -0.2 -0.7 -0.5
October 0.7 0.2 1.1 1.5
November 1.0 -1.6 0.7 0.6
December -0.3 -0.1 0.6 0.7

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2014-2017

2014 2015 2016 2017
January 115.8 122.7 122.5 124.2
February 117.9 121.6 121.4 126.1
March 119.1 122.5 119.9 123.6
April 120.1 121.9 122.2 124.4
May 120.7 122.5 122.1 127.4
June 119.8 122.1 123.1 126.6
July 120.4 122.5 124.9 128.7
August 121.1 122.8 122.4 129.0
September 121.4 122.6 121.5 128.4
October 122.2 122.9 122.8 130.3
November 123.4 120.9 123.6 131.1
December 123.0 120.8 124.4 132.0

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 3: Freight, Passenger and Combined Transportation Services Indexes Year-to-Date Change, 2008-2017

Percent change to December from December of the previous year

Year Freight Passenger Combined
2008 -9.3 -5.1 -8.2
2009 1.1 0.0 0.8
2010 7.1 2.4 5.7
2011 5.9 2.2 4.7
2012 -2.5 0.3 -1.6
2013 5.0 1.6 4.0
2014 4.4 2.5 3.8
2015 -1.8 3.0 -0.3
2016 3.0 0.6 2.2
2017 6.1 1.6 4.7

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

Percent Change in the December Freight TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  December Freight TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 100.4 -9.3
2009 101.5 1.1
2010 108.7 7.1
2011 115.1 5.9
2012 112.2 -2.5
2013 117.8 5.0
2014 123.0 4.4
2015 120.8 -1.8
2016 124.4 3.0
2017 132.0 6.1

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Table 5: Transportation Services Indexes from Previous Years

Percent Change to 2017 (December to December)

Since December

. . .

Duration in years Freight TSI Percent change to December 2017 Passenger TSI Percent change to December 2017 Combined TSI Percent change to December 2017
2016 1 6.1 1.6 4.7
2015 2 9.3 2.2 7.0
2014 3 7.3 5.2 6.7
2013 4 12.1 7.8 10.8
2012 5 17.6 9.6 15.2
2011 6 14.7 9.9 13.3
2010 7 21.4 12.3 18.6
2009 8 30.0 15.0 25.3
2008 9 31.5 15.0 26.3
2007 10 19.2 9.2 16.0

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistic

Table 6: Passenger Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2014-2017

Percent change from previous month

2014 2015 2016 2017
% Change % Change % Change % Change
January 0.0 -0.6 -0.6 0.4
February 0.2 -0.8 1.0 -1.4
March 1.6 1.8 -1.8 1.1
April -0.2 0.2 1.2 1.3
May 0.6 0.2 0.3 -0.2
June -0.9 0.2 0.8 0.7
July 0.3 2.2 -0.6 -0.1
August 0.7 -1.6 -1.1 -0.6
September -0.2 0.3 1.7 -2.3
October 0.2 1.1 -1.5 2.8
November -0.4 -0.7 1.1 0.1
December 0.8 0.6 0.2 -0.2

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 7: Passenger Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year

Percent change in the December Passenger TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  December Passenger TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 110.4 -5.1
2009 110.4 0.0
2010 113.1 2.4
2011 115.6 2.2
2012 115.9 0.3
2013 117.8 1.6
2014 120.7 2.5
2015 124.3 3.0
2016 125.0 0.6
2017 127.0 1.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Table 8: Combined Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2014-2017

Percent change from previous month

2014 2015 2016 2017
% Change % Change % Change % Change
January -1.2 -0.3 0.7 0.0
February 1.3 -0.9 -0.3 0.6
March 1.2 1.1 -1.4 -1.0
April 0.5 -0.2 1.7 0.8
May 0.6 0.4 0.1 1.6
June -0.8 -0.2 0.8 -0.2
July 0.4 0.9 0.8 1.1
August 0.7 -0.2 -1.8 0.0
September 0.1 -0.1 0.0 -1.0
October 0.5 0.5 0.3 1.9
November 0.6 -1.3 0.7 0.4
December 0.0 0.2 0.6 0.5

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 9: Combined Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year

Percent change in the December Combined TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  December Combined TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 103.4 -8.2
2009 104.2 0.8
2010 110.1 5.7
2011 115.3 4.7
2012 113.4 -1.6
2013 117.9 4.0
2014 122.4 3.8
2015 122.0 -0.3
2016 124.7 2.2
2017 130.6 4.7

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Table 10: Freight Transportation Services Index Change by Quarter, 2008-2017

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter

Year 1st Quarter (Jan-Mar)% Growth 2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth 3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep)% Growth 4th Quarter (Oct-Dec)% Growth
2008 -0.9 0.2 -2.3 -6.5
2009 -4.6 0.3 3.6 1.9
2010 3.8 1.0 0.7 1.4
2011 2.0 -0.5 1.1 3.2
2012 -3.0 1.7 -1.3 0.2
2013 2.9 0.8 0.3 0.9
2014 1.1 0.6 1.3 1.3
2015 -0.4 -0.3 0.4 -1.5
2016 -0.7 2.7 -1.3 2.4
2017 -0.6 2.4 1.4 2.8

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 11: Passenger Transportation Services Index Change by Quarter, 2008-2017

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter

Year 1st Quarter (Jan-Mar) % Growth 2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth 3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep)% Growth 4th Quarter (Oct-Dec)% Growth
2008 0.4 -0.3 -3.7 -1.5
2009 -1.7 0.0 0.9 0.8
2010 0.3 1.0 1.3 -0.1
2011 0.4 0.6 0.8 0.4
2012 0.3 -0.8 0.5 0.2
2013 0.3 1.2 -0.3 0.4
2014 1.8 -0.5 0.7 0.5
2015 0.4 0.6 0.9 1.1
2016 -1.4 2.4 -0.1 -0.2
2017 0.1 1.8 -2.9 2.8

 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 12: Combined Transportation Services Index Change by Quarter, 2008-2017

Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter

Year 1st Quarter (Jan-Mar)% Growth 2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun) % Growth 3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep)% Growth 4th Quarter (Oct-Dec)% Growth
2008 -0.5 0.0 -2.7 -5.1
2009 -3.7 0.2 2.8 1.6
2010 2.7 1.1 0.8 0.9
2011 1.5 -0.2 1.0 2.4
2012 -2.0 1.0 -0.8 0.2
2013 2.1 0.9 0.2 0.8
2014 1.3 0.3 1.2 1.1
2015 -0.2 -0.1 0.6 -0.7
2016 -1.0 2.6 -1.0 1.6
2017 -0.4 2.2 0.1 2.8

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).