The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 0.7% in March from February, rising for the seventh consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From March 2021 to March 2022 the index rose 3.8 percent compared to a rise of 0.5 percent from March 2020 to March 2021 and a decline of 2.2 percent from March 2019 to March 2020 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).
The level of for-hire freight shipments in March measured by the Freight TSI (141.0) was 0.7% below the all-time high level of 142.0 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.
The February index was revised to 140.0 from 138.5 in last month’s release. January also was revised up slightly.
BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for March. The passenger index for March is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to February 2022. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for March 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 February 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.
Analysis: The Freight TSI increased 0.7% in March from February due to seasonally adjusted increases in water, trucking, rail carloads, and rail intermodal, while air freight and pipeline declined.
The March increase came in the context of growth for several other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew by 0.9% in March, reflecting increases of 0.9% in manufacturing, 0.4% in utilities, and 1.7% in mining. Housing starts were up 0.3%, and personal income increased by 0.5%.
The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 1.5 points to 57.1, indicating slowing growth in manufacturing.
Although the March Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the previously cited difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the February index is now being released. The index increased 11.9% from January to February following a decrease of 7.2% in January. Seasonally adjusted transit, air passenger and rail passenger travel all grew.
The Passenger TSI has now exceeded its level in March 2020 —the first month of the pandemic— for nine months in a row but remains below its pre-pandemic level (February 2020) for the 24th consecutive month.
Trend: The March freight index increase was the seventh month-over-month increase, for a total increase of 5.1% since August 2021. The March Freight TSI is 12.5% above the pandemic low in April 2020; it has now increased in 16 of the 23 months since that low. The index is 0.7% below its record level of 142.0 set in August 2019 and has increased in 15 of the 31 months since that peak. It is now at its highest point since that record level.
For additional historical data, go to TSI data.
Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in March 2022 (141.0) were 48.6% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The March 2022 level was 0.7% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (142.0).
Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 2.8% in March compared to the end of 2021 (Table 3).
Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 12.6% in the five years from March 2017 and are up 26.0% in the 10 years from March 2012 (Table 5).
Same month of previous year: March 2022 for-hire freight shipments were up 3.8% from March 2021 (Tables 4, 5).
1st quarter changes: The freight TSI rose 2.8% in the 1st quarter (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 2022 index is scheduled for June 8, 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.
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.
Table 1: Freight Transportation Services Index since September 2021
Percent Change from Previous Month
(Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)
NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.
Table 1A: Annual High and Low Points in Freight Transportation Services Index, 2009-2022
Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2019-2022
Percent change from previous month
Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2019-2022
Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2013-2022
Percent change to March from December of the previous year
Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year
Percent Change in the March Freight TSI
(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)
NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.
Table 5: Freight Transportation Services Index from Previous Years
Percent Change to 2022 (March to March)
Table 10: Freight Transportation Services Index Change by Quarter, 2013-2022
Percent change from the last month of the previous quarter