August freight shipment down 1.3% from July, lags 7.3% behind all-time high in August 2019

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Port of Long Beach California
According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Freight Transportation Services Index dropped in August, landing 1.3% below July 2020 and 3.7% below its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. (Courtesy: Port of Long Beach)

WASHINGTON — The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 1.3% in August from revised July, declining after two months of increases, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

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The Freight TSI measures month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments, categorized by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, and compiles the information into one index. This index includes data from a variety of for-hire modes of transportation, including trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight.

Freight Transport Index Graph
(Courtesy: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

From August 2019 to August 2020, the index fell 7.4% compared to a rise of 3.9% from August 2018 to August 2019 and a rise of 5.7% from August 2017 to August 2018. The level of for-hire freight shipments in August measured by the Freight TSI (131.1) was 7.4% below the all-time high level of 141.6 in August 2019.

Last month, the BTS revised the July index up to 132.8 from 128.9, a 1.3% increase. Monthly numbers for May and June were revised up slightly, while March and April were revised down slightly.

BTS attributes the 1.3% drop between July and August of this year to declines in water, pipeline and trucking, despite growth in rail intermodal, rail carload and air freight. The August decrease was preceded by three consecutive monthly increases; however, the Freight TSI declined in four of the eight months from January to August, resulting in a total decrease of 4% in 2020.

The index remained 3.7% below its pre-pandemic level in February and 4.2% below its recent peak in January. However, it is 4.4% above its pandemic low point in April. It is now 7.4% below its all-time high in August 2019.

The index was below the levels of every month from November 2017 to March 2020 for the fifth consecutive month. However, it was above every level before August 2017 when the index reached 129.0. For-hire freight shipments in August 2020 (131.1) were 38.1% higher than the low in April 2009 (94.9), during the recession. According to BTS, for-hire freight shipments are up 6.4% in the five years from August 2015 and are up 22.6% in the 10 years from August 2010.

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