For-Hire Shipping Reaches All-Time Monthly High in September

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 September, 0.2 percent higher than the previous highest level reached one month earlier in August, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The September 2017 index level (129.2) was 36.3 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of for-hire freight shipments in September measured by the Freight TSI (129.2) reached an all-time high for the third consecutive month (Table 2A). The 6.7 percent gain over September 2016 was the largest year-over-year rise since December 2010. BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The August index was revised to 129.0 from 130.7 in last month’s release. Monthly numbers for January through March and May 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.

Trend: The Freight TSI’s new all-time high of 129.2 in September was 0.2 percent above the previous all-time high set in August and 3.5 percent above the level of July 2016 (124.9), which was the highest level prior to 2017. September was the third all-time high in a row, and the fourth in five months. Every month since November 2016 has exceeded the level of all previous months except July 2016. All six of the Freight TSI’s all-time highest months have been in 2017. Each of these months exceeded the pre-2017 high in July 2016 by at least 1.0 percent.

Over the last six months, the index rose 3.8 percent with the third quarter 2.4 percent rise following the second quarter increase of 1.4 percent. The two consecutive quarterly increases were the first since the beginning of 2015.

The September index was 36.3 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Analysis: Significant increases in trucking and pipeline led the September increase of 0.2 percent while other modes declined. The TSI increase took place against a background of mixed results for other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.3 percent in September, with increases in all sectors. Employment rose, Personal income grew and the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing index rose to 60.8, indicating accelerating growth.  Meanwhile, housing starts fell by 4.5 percent.

The 2.4 percent increase in Freight TSI in the third quarter was consistent with the pace of growth in GDP, which was 3.0 percent in the third quarter. GDP growth had been 3.1 percent in second quarter, when Freight TSI also grew. GDP growth was slower in the first quarter of 2017, when Freight TSI declined.

 Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in September 2017 (129.2) were 36.3 percent higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.8). The September 2017 level reached its all-time high.

Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 3.7 percent in September compared to the end of 2016 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 15.4 percent in the five years from September 2012 and are up 18.1 percent in the 10 years from September 2007 (Table 5).

Same month of previous year: September 2017 for-hire freight shipments were up 6.7 percent from September 2016 (Tables 4, 5).

3rd quarter changes: The freight rose 2.4 percent in the 3rd quarter, the second 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 October 2017 index is scheduled for Dec. 13.

 Passenger Index: The TSI for passengers rose 0.7 percent in September from its August level (Table 6). The Passenger TSI September 2017 level of 127.3 was 1.9 percent above the September 2016 level (Table 7). The index is up 10.0 percent in five years and up 8.3 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 0.3 percent in September from its August level (Table 8). The combined TSI September 2017 level of 128.7 was 5.1 percent above the September 2016 level (Table 9). The combined index is up 13.7 percent in five years and up 14.9 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. 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 March 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
March 124.5 -1.3 125.0 1.1 124.7 -0.6
April 124.5 0.0 126.6 1.3 125.2 0.4
May 127.5 2.4 126.3 -0.2 127.2 1.6
June 126.2 -1.0 127.4 0.9 126.7 -0.4
July 128.8 2.1 127.2 -0.2 128.4 1.3
August 129.0 0.2 126.4 -0.6 128.3 -0.1
September 129.2 0.2 127.3 0.7 128.7 0.3

 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 December 101.6 April 94.8
2013 November 119.0 January 114.2
2014 November 123.4 May 115.8
2015 March 123.0 November 120.9
2016 July 124.9 March 120.5
2017 (thru September) September 129.2 January 124.4

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 -1.8 -0.3 1.3 -0.2
February 1.8 -0.9 -0.9 1.4
March 1.3 1.2 -0.7 -1.3
April 0.6 -0.9 1.4 0.0
May 0.4 0.4 -0.2 2.4
June -0.8 -0.5 0.6 -1.0
July 0.6 0.6 1.8 2.1
August 0.7 0.2 -2.0 0.2
September 0.2 -0.4 -1.1 0.2
October 0.7 0.5 1.5
November 1.0 -1.6 0.6
December -0.2 0.0 0.8

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

2014 2015 2016 2017
January 115.8 122.7 122.5 124.4
February 117.9 121.6 121.4 126.2
March 119.4 123.0 120.5 124.5
April 120.1 121.9 122.2 124.5
May 120.6 122.4 122.0 127.5
June 119.6 121.8 122.7 126.2
July 120.3 122.5 124.9 128.8
August 121.1 122.8 122.4 129.0
September 121.3 122.3 121.1 129.2
October 122.2 122.9 122.9
November 123.4 120.9 123.6
December 123.1 120.9 124.6

 SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

Percent change to September from December of the previous year

Year Freight Passenger Combined
2008 -3.0 -3.6 -3.2
2009 -0.8 -0.8 -0.8
2010 5.5 2.5 4.6
2011 2.5 1.8 2.3
2012 -2.7 0.1 -1.9
2013 3.9 1.2 3.1
2014 2.9 1.9 2.6
2015 -0.6 1.7 0.0
2016 0.2 0.5 0.3
2017 3.7 1.8 3.1

 SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

Percent Change in the September Freight TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  September Freight TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 107.4 -1.8
2009 99.6 -7.3
2010 107.2 7.6
2011 111.5 4.0
2012 112.0 0.4
2013 116.6 4.1
2014 121.3 4.0
2015 122.3 0.8
2016 121.1 -1.0
2017 129.2 6.7

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 (September to September)

Since September

. . .

Duration in years Freight TSI Percent change to September 2017 Passenger TSI Percent change to September 2017 Combined TSI Percent change to September 2017
2016 1 6.7 1.9 5.1
2015 2 5.6 3.7 5.1
2014 3 6.5 6.1 6.4
2013 4 10.8 8.5 10.1
2012 5 15.4 10.0 13.7
2011 6 15.9 10.6 14.3
2010 7 20.5 12.5 18.1
2009 8 29.7 16.3 25.4
2008 9 20.3 13.6 18.1
2007 10 18.1 8.3 14.9

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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 0.3
February 0.2 -0.9 1.0 -1.4
March 1.6 2.0 -1.8 1.1
April -0.2 0.1 1.2 1.3
May 0.6 0.2 0.3 -0.2
June -0.8 0.3 0.9 0.9
July 0.2 2.0 -0.7 -0.2
August 0.8 -1.4 -1.0 -0.6
September -0.4 0.0 1.3 0.7
October 0.2 1.3 -1.1
November -0.5 -0.7 0.9
December 0.8 0.6 0.3

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

Percent change in the September Passenger TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  September Passenger TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 112.1 -4.6
2009 109.5 -2.3
2010 113.2 3.4
2011 115.1 1.7
2012 115.7 0.5
2013 117.3 1.4
2014 120.0 2.3
2015 122.8 2.3
2016 124.9 1.7
2017 127.3 1.9

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 -0.4 0.7 0.0
February 1.3 -1.0 -0.3 0.6
March 1.4 1.5 -1.1 -0.6
April 0.4 -0.7 1.3 0.4
May 0.4 0.4 0.1 1.6
June -0.8 -0.2 0.7 -0.4
July 0.5 1.0 1.0 1.3
August 0.7 -0.2 -1.7 -0.1
September 0.0 -0.3 -0.3 0.3
October 0.6 0.8 0.6
November 0.5 -1.4 0.7
December 0.2 0.2 0.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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

Percent change in the September Combined TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  September Combined TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2008 109.0 -2.7
2009 102.6 -5.9
2010 109.0 6.2
2011 112.6 3.3
2012 113.2 0.5
2013 116.9 3.3
2014 121.0 3.5
2015 122.5 1.2
2016 122.4 -0.1
2017 128.7 5.1

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 -4.7 0.4 3.6 2.0
2010 3.7 1.0 0.7 1.5
2011 1.8 -0.5 1.2 3.2
2012 -3.0 1.6 -1.3 0.2
2013 3.1 0.5 0.3 1.1
2014 1.3 0.2 1.4 1.5
2015 -0.1 -1.0 0.4 -1.1
2016 -0.3 1.8 -1.3 2.9
2017 -0.1 1.4 2.4

 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 1.1 1.2 -0.1
2011 0.4 0.6 0.8 0.4
2012 0.3 -0.7 0.4 0.2
2013 0.3 1.3 -0.3 0.4
2014 1.8 -0.4 0.5 0.6
2015 0.5 0.7 0.6 1.2
2016 -1.4 2.4 -0.5 0.1
2017 0.0 1.9 -0.1

 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 -3.8 0.3 2.8 1.6
2010 2.7 1.1 0.7 1.0
2011 1.5 -0.2 1.0 2.5
2012 -2.1 1.0 -0.8 0.2
2013 2.3 0.7 0.1 0.9
2014 1.4 0.0 1.2 1.2
2015 0.1 -0.5 0.4 -0.4
2016 -0.7 2.1 -1.1 2.0
2017 -0.1 1.6 1.6

 

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).