The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 0.5% in October to 135.7 from September (135.0 revised) according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). This is the second consecutive month-over-month increase. From October 2020 to October 2021, the index rose 1.9% compared to a decline of 3.6% from October 2019 to October 2020 and a decline of 0.7% from October 2018 to October 2019 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of for-hire freight shipments in October measured by the Freight TSI (135.7) was 4.4% below the all-time high of 142.0 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS began maintaining TSI records in 2000. 

The September index was revised to 135.0 from the 135.8 reported in last month’s release.  Monthly numbers for March through June were also revised down slightly.

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for October. The passenger index for October is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to September 2021. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for October 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 September 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 0.5% in October from September due to seasonally-adjusted increases in rail carloads, trucking, air freight, and water and decreases in pipeline and rail intermodal.

The October increase came in the context of mixed results for other indicators. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 1.2% in October, reflecting increases of 1.2% in manufacturing, 4.1% in mining, and 1.2% in utilities. Housing starts were down 0.7%. Personal income increased by 0.5%.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 0.3 points to 60.8, indicating continued but slowing growth in manufacturing.

Although the October Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the previously cited difficulty of estimating airline passenger travel and other components, the September index is now being released. The index increased 1.9% from August to September following a decrease of 1.6% in July. Seasonally adjusted, air passenger and rail passenger grew while transit declined slightly. The Passenger TSI has now exceeded its level in March 2020 —the first month of the pandemic— for four months in a row but has not returned to its pre-pandemic February 2020 level. The Passenger TSI remains below its pre-pandemic level for the 19th consecutive month. 

Trend: The October freight index increase was the second increase following four consecutive months of decline. This was the fourth increase in eight months for a net increase of 1.7% over the eight months since February 2021. The October Freight TSI is at the same level as March 2021 and is 8.4% above the pandemic low in April 2020. The index is 4.4% below its record level of 142.0 in August 2019 and has decreased in 14 of the 26 months since that peak.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in October 2021 (135.7) were 42.8% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (95.0). The October 2021 level was 4.4% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (142.0) (Table 1A).

Year to date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were up 0.6% in October compared to the end of 2020 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 10.1% in the five years from October 2016 and are up 21.5% in the 10 years from October 2011 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: October 2021 for-hire freight shipments were up 1.9% from October 2020 (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 November 2021 index is scheduled for January 13, 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.