BTS is a Knowledge-Based Organization

BTS is a Knowledge-Based Organization

As a federal statistical agency, BTS maintains a special degree of objectivity and independence in its statistical work. BTS does not advocate policies or programs, and special protections are in place to maintain confidentiality in data collection and dissemination. The Bureaus efforts focus on obtainingand helping to objectively analyze and interpretdata that will be used to increase the nations understanding of transportation topics and better inform decisions and policies. To achieve this goal, BTS engages in three central activities: creating, managing, and sharing transportation statistical knowledge.

Creating Transportation Statistical Knowledge

BTS designs and manages surveys, collects and interprets data from private organizations and governmental agencies, and reports results of statistical and economic analyses. The following activities exemplify the Bureaus work in creating knowledge.

Commodity Flow Survey

According to the Commodity Flow Survey, there were 2.2 billion tons of hazardous materials shipped in the United States in 2002, carried primarily by trucks (53%) and pipelines (30%).

The Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) is the primary source of national data on the flow of goods and includes data on origin and destination, distance, and mode of transportation. Conducted every 5 years in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, the CFS obtains data on commodities shipped; their value, weight, and mode of transportation; and the origin and destination of shipments by manufacturing, wholesale, mining, and selected retail industries. The CFS provides key information for understanding the use and performance of our nations freight transportation system. Data collection began in January for the 2007 CFS.

The Commodity Flow Survey is the only source of nationwide data on domestic truck freight flows and the sole source of national-level flow data on hazardous materials shipments by highway and air collected by the federal government.

Transportation professionals rely on CFS data to analyze trends in goods movement, conduct hazardous materials risk assessments, forecast future demand for goods movement and associated infrastructure and equipment needs, and analyze commodity and vehicle flow patterns. The CFS is used by:

  • State DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, trade associations, and transportation entities to guide transportation policy and investment;
  • Public policy analysts and transportation planners to assess the demand for transportation facilities and services, energy use, and safety risk and environmental concerns; and
  • The private sector for freight forecasts and freight models.

TransBorder Freight Data

Of the value of all goods moved in U.S.-International trade, more than one out of every three dollars is with Canada and Mexico.

BTS ensures that high quality international data and analyses are available to all levels of government, the private sector, and individuals studying trade and transportation. BTS produces monthly statistics on U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican freight movements. BTS also provides monthly incoming border crossing/entry data for vehicles, containers, passengers, and pedestrians at the port level on the U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican borders. In fiscal year 2007, BTS unveiled a modernized, user-friendly, online system for retrieving the data.

BTS TransBorder data are used:

The Maine Department of Transportation used the BTS TransBorder data to develop an online tracking system to highlight truck and personal vehicle activity at major points of entry.

  • By state and local governments for transportation infrastructure and logistics planning, including border congestion analyses and freight corridor planning;
  • By the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to implement the coordinated border infrastructure program and apportion funds to border states;
  • By transportation planners to perform trade corridor studies, transportation pattern analyses, system capacity studies, and other research; and
  • By other public and private users, including industry associations, academic researchers, and the private sector.

Airline Data

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BTS regularly collects a wide range of airline-related data. These data are used by customers within DOT, including the Office of Aviation Analysis and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Stakeholders outside of DOT, such as Congress, the air transportation industry, researchers, academia, and the public, also rely on BTS airline data products and reports.

The Airline Service Quality Program collects data from 18 leading air carriers and 2 voluntary reporting carriers. The airlines electronically file their reports, which include on-time and delay data, cancellations, and reasons for delays. Airline traffic data are reported to BTS by all U.S. carriers (except on-demand air taxis), and include the number of passengers on nonstop flights and the weight of mail and freight. BTS also collects data on passenger origin and destination, and airline financial data.

The Airline Information Program of BTS is the nation’s only source of comprehensive airline traffic, financial, and performance data.

Airline statistics produced by BTS are regularly reported in the nations leading media outlets. Data are available in monthly and quarterly press releases and on the BTS web site. The Office of the Secretary of Transportation uses the BTS airline data to generate the Air Travel Consumer Report. BTS is developing plans to expand the number of data elements collected from the airlines to better report tarmac delay for diverted and canceled flights.

Managing Transportation Statistical Knowledge

BTS extracts and compiles data from a wide variety of sources to provide transportation professionals with current and relevant information. As a result, BTS is recognized internationally as a reliable source of data, statistics, reports, and related materials on numerous facets of transportation.

Geospatial Information

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BTS actively contributes to the nations geospatial knowledge by developing software to improve the estimation of travel routes, and by collaborating with federal agencies and stakeholders to advance geographic data efforts.

In fiscal year 2007, BTS completed the development of an innovative software tool, called GeoMiler, to help researchers better estimate freight travel. GeoMiler uses current Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to plot the likely routes used for each shipment. The estimated routes are then used to calculate mileage from the true origin to the true destination for each freight shipment, even when more than one freight mode is used. These computations are used in estimating modal ton-miles of freighta key measure for understanding the use and performance of the nations freight transportation system. Developed for use with the Commodity Flow Survey, GeoMilers integration of core GIS technology and its modeling approach can be used for any multimodal freight movement at all geographic levels. GeoMiler is now in full use for the 2007 CFS, and plans are underway to modify the GeoMiler application for use with the Census Transportation Planning Package to improve data on the location of workplaces at the tract and block level of geography.

BTS participated in the Steering Committee and Coordination Group meetings of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the policy-level interagency group responsible for overseeing Office of Management and Budget Circular A-16 related to activities and implementation of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.  The Steering Committee coordinates all federal geospatial activities between, among, and within agencies by establishing policy and providing guidance and direction to the member agencies. The Coordination Group advises on the day-to-day business of the FGDC, and is comprised of chairpersons of the 9 thematic subcommittees and 4 cross-cutting working groups, representatives from federal agencies, and stakeholder groups.

National Transportation Library

The University of California at Berkeley uses the BTS TRIS Online database to train faculty and graduate students on how to search for transportation information.

Charged with improving the availability of transportation-related information needed by federal, state, and local decisionmakers, the National Transportation Library (NTL) provides timely access to information that supports transportation policy, research, operations, and technology transfer activities. The NTL serves as an online repository of transportation materials from public, academic, and private organizations. The NTL also:

During fiscal year 2007, the National Transportation Librarys Reference Team handled more than 5,000 requests for information per month from Congress, all levels of government, the media, academia, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and the general public.

  • Publishes TRIS Online (Transportation Research Information Service), a product of the Transportation Research Board and the premier bibliographic database for the industry;
  • Provides an Integrated Search tool that serves as a single point of entry to NTLs Digital Collection, TRIS Online, and the Transportation Research Thesaurus;
  • Networks with other transportation libraries, agencies, and organizations; facilitates the development of transportation library consortia; and leads the community in adopting new technologies to manage and provide access to information; and
  • Offers professional reference, referral, and training services to help customers find statistics, reports, and transportation experts.

Transportation Services Index

The Transportation Services Index (TSI) is a monthly measure of the volume of services performed by the for-hire transportation sector. It is the only national, multimodal, seasonally adjusted economic gauge of both passenger and freight transportation activity. It is released each month on a published schedule.

The TSI tracks monthly fluctuations in the output of transportation services. Together with other economic indicators, the index contributes to a better understanding of the current and future course of the economy.

The TSI covers the activities of for-hire freight carriers, for-hire passenger carriers, and a combination of the two. The freight transportation index consists of for-hire trucking, freight railroad services, inland waterway traffic, pipeline movements, and air freight. The passenger transportation index consists of local mass transit, intercity passenger rail, and passenger air transportation. These components were selected to give the best coverage possible of the for-hire transportation industry.

Sharing Transportation Statistical Knowledge

The third component of BTS as a knowledge-based organization is its capacity to share knowledge with stakeholders and constituencies of Americas transportation systems. BTS continuously disseminates information through its publications and popular web site.

Collaboration with Transportation Data Users and Producers

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BTS provides expert support for the National Academies Transportation Research Board (TRB) and its committees. BTS presentations at the TRB Annual and Mid-Year meetings during fiscal year 2007 addressed a variety of transportation-related topics. BTS staff provided peer reviews for numerous TRB papers and are active members of TRB committees, including the Economic, Travel Survey Methods, Hazardous Materials Transportation, and Freight Transportation Data committees. BTS staff participated in project panels for several of TRBs Cooperative Research Programs, such as the National Cooperative Freight Research Program and the Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program.

BTS leads the Maritime Data Working Group, which is currently producing the third edition of the Maritime Trade and Transportation report. The report is prepared in support of the Committee on Marine Transportation (CMTS), a major effort to better coordinate marine transportation system activities, resources, and regulations. CMTS is led by DOT and other federal agencies with responsibility for an aspect of the U.S. marine transportation system. Members of the working group are the U.S. Maritime Administration, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Maritime Commission, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also in fiscal year 2007, BTS attended biannual meetings held by the National Academies Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), which works to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policy decisions are based. The Bureau actively participated in discussions with CNSTAT directors and staff on statistical topics related to transportation data, as well as other areas of interest that affect the overall federal statistical community.

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BTS participates in the proceedings of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS), which are held quarterly in Washington, DC. COPAFS meetings provide a forum for members of the federal statistical community to interact with data users to hear their concerns and issues relating to the collection and dissemination of federal statistical information. For example, BTS staff attended the September 2007 meeting in which the new Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) was discussed, with particular emphasis on its impact on the collection of data through statistical surveys. Information was also presented on the benefits associated with the sharing of sampling information for businesses in the arrangement between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, and the potential of expanding data sharing with other federal statistical agencies in the future.

BTS assisted in the creation of an interagency working group on privacy issues through the Confidentiality and Data Access Committee of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM) during fiscal year 2007. The purpose of the group is to identify agency experiences and practices, the relative importance of privacy issues at different agencies,  public opinion about privacy concerns, and opportunities for collaboration among statistical agencies. The issues addressed through the working group are of particular importance because privacy concerns can be a major factor affecting respondents perceptions of federal statistical agencies and their willingness to respond to survey requests.  The working groups findings will support the development of relevant products by the FCSM, such as a Statistical Policy Working Paper or a seminar on privacy issues.

In May 2007, BTS participated in an American Community Survey (ACS) Peer Exchange sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program and organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Standing Committee on Planning Census Data Workgroup. The Exchange focused on best practices in the use of ACS data for transportation analysis, and included discussions of data applications, analysis techniques, and suggestions for making ACS data more useful to the transportation community. These issues are of particular importance since the ACS data will replace the Decennial Census long forms Journey to Work data as the source of information for the Census Transportation Planning Package, a set of special tabulations prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau and accessible on the BTS TranStats web site.

The Bureau is collaborating on a new initiative for the Interagency Council for Statistical Policy (ICSP) to foster innovation in the federal statistical community. Efforts include interagency knowledge transfer about the innovation processes, as well as specific products and solutions. The working group is preparing a guidebook on the principles and practices for statistical agency innovation similar to the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency. The group also plans to identify issues that are likely to have a major impact on ICSP agencies over the next two decades and will be solved efficiently only through significant cross-agency innovation work.


During fiscal year 2007, more than 7,500 printed BTS publications were distributed in response to orders from the BTS Bookstore, requests through, and at conferences.

BTS publishes a variety of reports and products to meet the needs of transportation system stakeholders. All BTS publications can be downloaded from the BTS web site or obtained in hard copy from the BTS Bookstore at

In May 2007, BTS launched a new publications initiative intended to highlight developments or analyses of particular interest to transportation professionals. Technical Reports and Special Reports draw attention to selected topics and encourage readers to learn about the subject matter, using a brief, bulletin-style format. BTS released 6 Special Reports and 1 Technical Report in the inaugural year of this initiative:

BTS Special Report. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

Special Reports:

Technical Report:

BTS routinely produces multimodal compilations of statistics on selected topics. The following publications were updated in fiscal year 2007:

Pocket Guide to Transportation. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

The Pocket Guide to Transportation, valued by a wide variety of audiences, is a quick reference to the changes in the United States transportation system over time and their impact on the nations economy, safety, energy use, and the environment.

National Transportation Atlas Database. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

The National Transportation Atlas Database (NTAD), an annual 2-CD set, contains geographic databases of transportation facilities across the country.

Transportation Statistics Annual Report. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

The Transportation Statistics Annual Report presents selected transportation data on 13 topics specified in the Bureaus legislative mandate.

National Transportation Statistics. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

National Transportation Statistics, updated quarterly online, presents a comprehensive compilation of statistics on the U.S. transportation system, including more than 260 data tables.

State Transportation Statistics. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

State Transportation Statistics presents a statistical profile of transportation in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

U.S.-International Travel and Transportation Trends. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

U.S.-International Travel and Transportation Trends examines recent trends in U.S.-International travel overall, and overnight and same-day travel for all modes of transportation.

America's Container Ports. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

America's Container Ports presents statistics on domestic and international maritime container traffic and ports.

Compendium on Congestion. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351 or email

The Compendium on Congestion is a volume of current, peer-reviewed research on congestion, including issues and analyses across all modes.

Press Releases

BTS issues regularly scheduled and one-time press releases that focus the attention of the media and the public on BTS products. In fiscal year 2007, monthly press releases provided updates on the Transportation Services Index, airline traffic, passenger airline employment, and North American surface freight; and quarterly press releases issued information on air fares and airline financials.

Press releases also announced the publication of BTS products, such as the special report on North American freight transportation and the ranking of U.S. international freight gateways in Americas Container Ports: Delivering the Goods, the second annual update of the North American Transportation Statistics (NATS) online database, and a directive to update the reporting air carrier and reportable airport list for on-time performance data and to clarify the reporting regulations.

The Bureau also provided significant support for the Office of the Secretary of Transportations release of the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, including simultaneously posting online year-to-date on-time performance tables and the ranking of on-time arrival and departure performance at major airports. Beginning in January 2007, BTS tables of airline taxi-out times have been posted online to coincide with the release of the Air Travel Consumer Report.

Web Site

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The BTS web site averaged over 20,000 visitors per day in fiscal year 2007, more than any other DOT component. BTS continually updates its web site with statistics and graphics displays of trends. The web site enables quick response to current events. For example, immediately after the bridge collapse in Minnesota, BTS posted data on the condition of bridges in the United States. Features of the BTS home page include recent statistical releases, facts about the airline and freight industries, economic trend data, and links to the National Transportation Library and BTS publications. The interactive capacity of BTS TransStats web site allows users to select tables, analyze variables, create maps, or download data from a searchable index of over 100 transportation-related databases. BTS also provides, and regularly updates, transportation indicators that are shown on the White Houses economic briefing room web site.

BTS actively participated in several RITA and Departmental web sites initiatives:

  • Provided significant staff resources and consultation to unify the various discrete public facing web components into a new one RITA web site redesign;
  • Assisted in the design of the quarterly RITA employee satisfaction survey and adapted the survey for the web environment; and
  • Provided consultation and proposed redesign ideas for the rebranding of the Departments congestion initiative website,

The FedStats web site ( is the federal statistical systems web portal to the wealth of statistical information disseminated by the federal government. Twelve statistical agencies on the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy coordinate the site. BTS is one of the 12 member agencies, and has participated in discussions to shape how transportation statistical information can be disseminated to the public through FedStats. Since the launch of FedStats in May 1997, it has won numerous awards and citations for displaying statistical information easily and quickly for the general public. BTS has benefited from information shared in the monthly FedStats meetings, including best practices for displaying statistical information online. In addition, the Bureau utilizes the expertise of the staff that developed FedStats to inform BTS web site initiatives, including enhanced and expanded web dissemination activities planned in FY 2008.