The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 4.1% in March from February, falling after a one month increase, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From March 2022 to March 2023 the index fell 4.3% (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).
The level of for-hire freight shipments in March measured by the Freight TSI (134.4) was 5.0% below the all-time high level of 141.5 in August 2022 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.
The February index was revised to 140.2 from 138.7 in last month's release.
BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for March, because air passenger travel continues to deviate from regular seasonal patterns, as it adjusts to the effects induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Air freight and waterborne for March are also statistical estimates. Since air freight and waterborne make up a smaller part of the freight index, the freight TSI is being released as scheduled with the air freight estimate included. The Februarypassenger and combined indexesare 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 in March due to seasonally adjusted decreases in rail intermodal, water, air freight, and trucking, while rail carload and pipeline grew.
The March decrease came in the context of mixed results for several other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index was up 0.4% in March, reflecting an increase of 8.4% in utilities while mining and manufacturing were each down 0.5%. Housing starts were down 0.8% while personal income increased by 0.3%.
The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 1.4 points to 46.3, indicating continued contraction 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 2.7% from January to February. Seasonally adjusted transit, rail passenger and air passenger all increased.
The Passenger TSI has now exceeded its level in March 2020 —the first month of the pandemic— for 21 months in a row but remains below its pre-pandemic level (February 2020) for the 36th consecutive month.
Trend:The March freight index decrease was the largest decrease since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in April 2020. It followed a February increase and left the index 1.7% below the January level. This was the seventh decrease in nine months, for an overall decrease of 4.5% since June. It was the 8th month-over-month decrease in 19 months, for a total increase of 0.1% since August 2021. The March Freight TSI is 8.4% above the pandemic low in April 2020; it has increased in 20 of the 35 months since that low. The index is now 4.8% below its previous record level of 141.2 set in August 2019, despite increasing in 21 of the 44 months since that earlier peak.
Index highs and lows
For-hire freight shipments in March 2023 (134.4) were 41.5% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (95.0). The March 2023 level was 5.0% below the historic peak reached in August 2022 (141.5).
Year to date
For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 2.0% in March compared to the end of 2022 (Table 3).
For-hire freight shipments are down 0.9% in the five years from March 2018 and are up 15.9% in the 10 years from March 2013 (Table 5).
Same month of previous year
March 2023 for-hire freight shipments were down 4.3% from March 2022 (Tables 4, 5).
1st quarter changes
The freight TSI fell 2.0% 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 2023 index is scheduled for June 7, 2023.
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 theFRED 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.