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May 2020 Freight Index (TSI) Up 1.6% in Largest One-Month Rise in Two Years

Release Number: 
BTS 44-20
Date: Thursday, July 9, 2020
 

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 1.6% in May from April, rising after a three-month decline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From May 2019 to May 2020, the index fell 8.5% compared to a rise of 2.1% from May 2018 to May 2019 and a rise of 8.4% from May 2017 to May 2018 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
MonthFreight TSI
May-15122.0
Jun-15121.7
Jul-15122.6
Aug-15123.2
Sep-15123.2
Oct-15122.8
Nov-15120.9
Dec-15120.5
Jan-16122.4
Feb-16121.7
Mar-16120.7
Apr-16123.1
May-16122.3
Jun-16123.2
Jul-16125.7
Aug-16123.5
Sep-16122.2
Oct-16123.1
Nov-16123.3
Dec-16124.5
Jan-17124.0
Feb-17124.6
Mar-17125.1
Apr-17125.5
May-17125.8
Jun-17126.1
Jul-17128.4
Aug-17128.9
Sep-17128.6
Oct-17130.1
Nov-17131.7
Dec-17133.5
Jan-18131.4
Feb-18133.7
Mar-18135.7
Apr-18135.5
May-18136.4
Jun-18137.2
Jul-18135.9
Aug-18136.0
Sep-18137.9
Oct-18138.9
Nov-18139.3
Dec-18137.3
Jan-19138.5
Feb-19137.3
Mar-19138.2
Apr-19139.1
May-19139.3
Jun-19138.9
Jul-19139.6
Aug-19141.2
Sep-19137.7
Oct-19138.2
Nov-19138.0
Dec-19136.5
Jan-20136.9
Feb-20136.1
Mar-20135.5
Apr-20125.4
May-20127.4
Source: 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

The level of for-hire freight shipments in May measured by the Freight TSI (127.4) was 9.8% below the all-time high level of 141.2 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The April index was revised to 125.4 from 125.1 in last month’s release. March was revised down slightly.

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for May. The passenger index is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to April 2020. As a result, the estimates have yet to fully account for the impact of the coronavirus. Air freight is also a statistical estimate. Since air freight makes up a smaller part of the freight index, the freight TSI is being released as scheduled with the air freight estimate included. The April passenger and combined indexes are available on the BTS website.

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 Freight TSI rose 1.6% in May from April due to growth in rail intermodal, trucking, the largest mode, and pipeline, despite declines in rail carload, air freight and water. The May increase took place against the background of growth in several other indicators.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was up by 1.6 points to 43.1, indicating improvement in manufacturing. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 1.3% in May reflecting an increase of 3.8% in manufacturing while mining and utilities shrank. Housing starts increased by 4.3%.

Personal Income was down 4.2%, reflecting a decrease in government social benefits as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the May Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating air passenger miles and other modes, the April index is now being released. The index decline of 84.9% from March to April was unprecedented and followed a 51.6% decline in the previous month. There were large decreases in all the modes that make up the index - air, transit, and rail.

Trend: The May increase in the Freight index was the first monthly increase since January 2020, before the impact of COVID 19 on the US economy. The 1.6% increase from April to May was the largest month-to-month rise since February 2018 when the index was 1.8% higher than in January 2018. TSI remained 6.9% below its level in January, and 9.8% below its all-time high in August 2019. The index was below the levels of every month from July 2017 to March 2020 for the second consecutive month. However, it was above every level before July 2017 when the index reached 128.4. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in May 2020 (127.4) were 34.2% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The May 2020 level was 9.8% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.2) (Table 1A).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 6.7% in May compared to the end of 2019 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 4.4% in the five years from May 2015 and are up 19.7% in the 10 years from May 2010 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: May 2020 for-hire freight shipments were down 8.5% from May 2019 (Tables 4, 5).

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 2020 index is scheduled for Aug. 12.

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 charts and discussion on the relationship of the TSI to the economy, see Transportation as an Economic Indicator: Transportation Services Index.

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

Table 1: Freight Transportation Services Index since November 2019
Percent Change from Previous Month
(Seasonally-Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
Freight
 
Index
Pct. Change 
November
138.0
-0.1
December
136.5
1.1
January
136.9
0.3
February
136.1
-0.6
March
135.5
-0.4
April
125.4
-7.5
May127.41.6
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, 2009-2020

YearMonthPeakMonthBottom

2009

December

101.8

April

94.9

2016

July

125.7

March

120.7

2017

December

133.5

January

124.0

2018

November

139.3

January

131.4

2019

August

141.2

December

136.5

2020 (thru May)

January136.9April125.4

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics 

Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2017-2020
Percent change from previous month
 
2017
% Change
2018
% Change
2019
% Change
2020
% Change
January
-0.4
-1.6
0.9
0.3
February
0.5
1.8
-0.9
-0.6
March
0.4
1.5
0.7
-0.4
April
0.3
-0.1
0.7
-7.5
May
0.2
0.7
0.1
1.6
June
0.2
0.6
-0.3
 
July
1.8
-0.9
0.5
 
August
0.4
0.1
1.1
 
September
-0.2
1.4
-2.5
 
October
1.2
0.7
0.4
 
November
1.2
0.3
-0.1
 
December1.4-1.4-1.1 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2017-2020

 
2017
2018
2019
2020
January
124.0
131.4
138.5
136.9
February
124.6
133.7
137.3
136.1
March
125.1
135.7
138.2
135.5
April
125.5
135.5
139.1
125.4
May
125.8
136.4
139.3
127.4
June
126.1
137.2
138.9
 
July
128.4
135.9
139.6
 
August
128.9
136.0
141.2
 
September
128.6
137.9
137.7
 
October
130.1
138.9
138.2
 
November
131.7
139.3
138.0
 
December133.5137.3136.5 

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

 
Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2011-2020
Percent change to May from December of the previous year
Year
Freight
2011
0.0
2012
-1.7
2013
3.4
2014
2.7
2015
-0.8
2016
1.5
2017
1.0
2018
2.2
2019
1.5
2020-6.7

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year
Percent Change in the May Freight TSI
(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
 
May Freight TSI
Percent change
from same month
previous year
2011
108.8
2.3
2012
112.9
3.8
2013
115.9
2.7
2014
120.9
4.3
2015
122.0
0.9
2016
122.3
0.2
2017
125.8
2.9
2018
136.4
8.4
2019
139.3
2.1
2020127.4-8.5

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

Table 5: Freight Transportation Services Index from Previous Years
Percent Change to 2020 (May to May)
Since May       
. . .
Duration in
years
Freight TSI Percent
change to May 2020
2019
1
-8.5
2018
2
-6.6
2017
3
1.3
2016
4
4.2
2015
5
4.4
2014
6
5.4
2013
7
9.9
2012
8
12.8
2011
9
17.1
20101019.7

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: Thursday, July 9, 2020