Acting Director Outlines Improved Freight Data Program

Acting Director Outlines Improved Freight Data Program

Bureau of Transportation Statistics Acting Director Rick Kowalewski told an audience at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in January that BTS has major plans underway to increase the amount of freight data available to the transportation community.

He said BTS is currently working on the 2002 Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) to track freight movements. This survey, which has not been conducted since 1997, provides basic information on freight movements throughout the United States.

“We hope to release the final CFS data product in December 2004,” Kowalewski said. “The 2002 CFS covers 50,000 establishments and 2.5 million shipments using basically the same sample design as in 1997.”

The BTS Acting Director also told the session on “Major Developments in Transportation Data” that the agency has a new freight data program in place that is working to provide more timely and complete information.

The new American Freight Data Program would include an expanded shipper survey, conducted annually, with an expanded sample that would allow for estimates of freight flows in smaller geographical areas. The survey would cover several types of shippers currently omitted, including construction, agricultural, retail, and services shippers.

The new program would also include supplemental data collection programs to provide data on imports, vehicle movements, vehicle and driver characteristics, and terminal capacity and throughput.

Kowalewski said the new BTS freight data program would help complete the picture of freight data movements in the United States. It will:

  • cover the nearly one-third of ton-miles that are missed by current surveys,
  • add geographic details needed by planners,
  • provide timeliness with annual surveys, and
  • provide important safety exposure data on driver and vehicle characteristics.

“We also need better data on the performance of the freight system – on costs, on delivery times, and on reliability. And we need a better understanding of intermodal connections and how well they work,” he said.

“It is obvious to us that no one method or one survey is going to fill every gap. We have sponsored a TRB blue ribbon panel to help us focus on what we need to include in the new freight data program ,” Kowalewski added. He said BTS will seek feedback from users on what they see as the most pressing questions after the panel offers its plan.