The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 0.2% in December from November, falling for the first month after three consecutive months of growth, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From pre-pandemic December 2019, the index fell 0.3%, but is up 1.0% from December 2020 compared to a decline of 1.3% from December 2019 to December 2020 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A). For-hire freight does not include the operations of fleets owned by retailers or other non-transportation companies referred to as private fleets.
The level of for-hire freight shipments in December measured by the Freight TSI (136.4) was 4.0% below the all-time high level of 142.1 reached in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.
The October index was revised to 136.7 from 136.9 in last month’s release. Monthly numbers for February, June, and August were revised up slightly. April, May, and July were revised down slightly.
BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for December. The passenger index for December is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to November 2021. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for December 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 November 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 seasonal movement, which enables month-to-month comparisons.
The Freight TSI decreased 0.2% in December from November due to seasonally adjusted decreases in air freight, rail carloads, and rail intermodal while water, pipeline, and trucking grew.
The December decrease came in the context of mixed results for other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index declined by 0.1% in December, reflecting decreases of 0.3% in manufacturing and 1.5% in utilities, while mining grew by 2.0%. Housing starts were up 1.4%. Personal income increased by 0.3%.
The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 2.4 points to 58.7, indicating slowing growth in manufacturing.
Although the December Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the previously cited difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the November index is now being released. The index increased 6.4% from October to November following an increase of 2.6% in October. Seasonally adjusted transit, air passenger travel, and rail passenger travel all grew.
The Passenger TSI has now exceeded its level in March 2020 —the first month of the pandemic— for six months in a row but remains below its pre-pandemic level (February 2020) for the 21st consecutive month.
The December freight index decrease was the first following three months of growth. The index increased in 6 of the months in 2021, and decreased in 6 months, for a total increase of 1.0% this year. The December Freight TSI is still 9.0% above the pandemic low in April 2020; the decrease in December was the seventh in the 20 months since that low. The index is 4.0% below its record level of 142.1 in August 2019 and has increased in 13 of the 28 months since that peak.
Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in December 2021 (136.4) were 43.7% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The December 2021 level was 4.0% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (142.1) (Table 1A).
Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 1.0% in December compared to the end of 2020 (Table 3).
Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 9.3% in the five years from December 2016 and are up 18.6% in the 10 years from December 2011 (Table 5).
Same month of previous year: December 2021 for-hire freight shipments were up 1.0% from December 2020 (Tables 4, 5).
The TSI has three seasonally-adjusted indices 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 2022 index is scheduled for March 9, 2022.
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.