Commodity Flow Survey

Commodity Flow Survey

The Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) is one of the flagship programs of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The CFS is conducted in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau as a component of the Economic Census. It is conducted on a 5-year cycle, with surveys conducted in 1993, 1997, 2002, and most recently in 2007. This survey is the primary source of national- and state-level data on domestic freight shipments by American establishments in mining, manufacturing, wholesale, auxiliaries, and selected retail industries. Data are provided on the types, origins and destinations, values, weights, modes of transport, distance shipped, and ton-miles of commodities shipped. The CFS is a shipper-based survey and represents the only publicly available source of commodity flow data for the highway mode. In addition, the CFS also provides one of the most comprehensive data series on the shipment of hazardous materials and exports.

Analysts and researchers in both the public and private sectors use data from the CFS for a variety of purposes:

  • analyzing trends in goods movement over time
  • conducting national and regional economic analysis
  • developing models and analytical tools for policy analyses, management, and investment decisions;
  • forecasting future demand for goods movement and associated infrastructure and equipment needs;
  • establishing benchmarks for estimating national accounts; and
  • analyzing and mapping spatial patterns of commodity and vehicle flows.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, completed data collection for the 2007 Commodity Flow Survey during the spring of 2008. As a result of consultations with data users and stakeholders and an extensive research effort, BTS and the Census Bureau implemented significant improvements in the survey design and data products. Highlighted accomplishments from these efforts include:

  • expanded coverage of shipping industries and geography
  • formal pretesting leading to improved forms and data collection procedures;
  • a precanvass operation to increase sample efficiency
  • improved data processing, including editing and imputation procedures and an expanded quality assurance program;
  • improved sample design that restored sample size to 100,000 establishments (50,000 in 2002) and incorporated both national- and state-level reliability constraints for the first time;
  • enhanced mileage calculation processing and software, most notably in the areas of modal rules for problematic shipments, rules for file return, dual usage of identical zip code file, and summary statistics; and
  • planned improvements to future data products and dissemination methods (including future use of new nondisclosure methodology).

2007 Commodity Flow Survey

According to preliminary estimates, American businesses made shipments valuing $11.8 trillion, totaling 13.0 billion tons, and contributing 3.5 trillion ton-miles on the nation’s transportation infrastructure (Table 1-3-1: Shipment Characteristics by Mode of Transportation for the United States). Trucking continues to dominate as the modal choice for freight shipments, accounting for 71 percent of the value and 76 percent of the tons of all commodity shipments.

Processing of the 2007 CFS data continued through 2008 with preliminary estimates from the survey released in December 2008. These preliminary estimates will be followed by the scheduled release of final data products in December 2009. All 2007 CFS data products, as well as those from previous surveys, are available at www.bts.gov/publications/commodity_flow_survey/. For the first time, data products from the 2002 and 2007 surveys will also reside on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder – an Internet data dissemination and analysis tool available at http://factfinder.census.gov.