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 Bureau's efforts focus on obtaining—and helping to objectively analyze and interpret—data that will be used to increase the Nation's understanding of transportation topics and to 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 Bureau's work in creating knowledge.

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.

Commodity Flow Survey

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 Nation's freight transportation system.

According to preliminary estimates from the latest Commodity Flow Survey, in 2007 American businesses made shipments valued at $11.8 trillion, totaling 13.0 billion tons, and contributing 3.5 trillion ton-miles on the nation's transportation infrastructure. Trucking continues to dominate as the modal choice for freight shipments, accounting for 70.7% of the value and 75.7% of the tons of all commodity shipments.

Shipment Characteristics by Mode of Transportation for the United States: 2007

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Mode of transportation Value
($ millions)
Tons (thousands) Ton-miles (millions) Average miles per shipment
All modes 11,831,503 13,016,610 3,490,806 580
Single modes 9,554,880 12,087,756 2,953,076 213
Truck 8,363,657 8,957,687 1,390,102 187
For-hire truck 4,764,442 4,029,016 1,011,018 527
Private truck 3,599,215 4,928,670 379,084 82
Rail 387,567 1,928,530 1,294,921 691
Water 106,905 423,282 175,973 330
Shallow draft 95,420 381,566 163,571 284
Great Lakes 705 13,261 4,830 133
Deep draft 10,779 28,455 7,571 390
Air (includes truck and air) 209,611 3,525 4,014 1,299
Pipeline 487,140 774,732 88,065 194
Multiple modes 1,938,884 S 489,767 S
Parcel, US Postal Service or courier 1,597,931 36,029 29,535 914
Truck and rail 197,748 213,411 188,547 1,053
Truck and water 31,112 74,421 48,870 1,347
Rail and water 7,744 44,979 30,444 2,608
Other multiple modes 104,350 257,698 192,372 2,190
Other and unknown modes 337,739 302,315 47,964 149

KEY: S = Estimate does not meet publication standards due to high sampling variability or poor response quality.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S Census Bureau, 2007 Economic Census: Transportation Commodity Flow Survey, Advance Release December 2008.

In 2008, BTS staff worked in Joint Investigative Teams, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, to address specific issues and research areas related to the 2007 CFS, such as weighting and estimation, mileage calculations, and publications. The teams calculated the miles for three million freight shipments collected by the survey and developed the estimates for the 2007 CFS publications. Preliminary estimates were released in December 2008.

Transportation professionals rely on CFS data and publications 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

In 2007, over 29 percent of the value of all goods moved in U.S.-International trade was in U.S. trade 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. Several BTS staff are active members of the Transportation Border Working Group and have conducted presentations and provided data to the group.

On an average day, approximately 150 unique users access the BTS TransBorder Freight web site.

BTS TransBorder data are also used by:

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

Total Trade Value by Truck Between Individual States and Our NAFTA Partners, 2007

Total Trade Value by Truck Between Individual States and Our NAFTA Partners, 2007. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351.

Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Project

The Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Project is the first nationwide measurement of the degree of connectivity within the Nation's passenger transportation system. The project's database contains information on connections with other scheduled passenger transportation modes available at terminals. The second phase of the Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Project was completed in fiscal year (FY) 2008. With the addition of ferry terminals to the database, which already contained intercity rail terminals and airports, the online database now includes nearly 1,500 terminals. BTS published two new reports with these data, one highlights findings for ferry terminals and another details the connectivity criteria. Data collection for the next phase of the project (rail transit) is underway and will continue through FY 2009.

Geographic Location of the Nation’s Ferry System

Geographic Location of the Nation's Ferry System. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351.

Airline Data

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

Fuel Costs Make up More than 30% of Total Airline Operating Expenses

Excel | CSV | Table version

Fuel Costs Make up More than 30% of Total Airline Operating Expenses. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, use the table version. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351.

* Data are available through September 2008.

NOTE: Data are from the 75 U.S. carriers with operating revenues greater than $20 million.

The Airline Service Quality Program collects data from 18 leading air carriers and 1 voluntary reporting carrier. The airlines electronically file their reports, which include on-time and delay data, cancellations, and reasons for delays. On May 15, 2008, BTS issued a final rule to collect additional data elements when flights are cancelled, diverted, or return to the gate. The additional data elements will provide consumers with a more accurate portrayal of arrival and tarmac delays than was available previously.

The new elements require uniform reporting of instances in which a flight returns to the gate one or more times prior to take-off. The final rule also collects data on the length of time a flight is away from the gate prior to being cancelled. For flights that are diverted to an alternate airport, the final rule collects the airport code for each diverted airport and information on the arrival time, tarmac time, and departure time at the diverted airport. For diverted flights, information is also being collected to determine whether a diverted flight reaches its original destination airport. These new reporting requirements went into effect on October 1, 2008.

BTS' Airline Information Program is the Nation's only source of comprehensive airline traffic, financial, and performance data.

In addition to airline financial data, BTS collects airline traffic data from all U.S. carriers (except on-demand air taxis). These data include the number of passengers and the weight of cargo (mail and freight) by nonstop flight segment and on-flight market. Reported traffic data also includes the available passenger and cargo capacity. BTS also collects survey data on the origin and destination, including the ticketed trip itinerary, of passengers as well as the total dollar amount of the airfare.

Airline statistics produced by BTS are regularly reported in the Nation's 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.

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.

Trending and Forecast Team

Established in FY 2008, the BTS Trending and Forecast Team performs trending, prediction, seasonal adjustment, and forecasting analyses of transportation data. The Team's projects in FY 2008 included estimating seasonality in congestion patterns in the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston; developing statistical models to predict the likelihood of future pipeline incidents to help determine inspection priorities; deseasonalizing of the Federal Highway Administration monthly vehicle-miles traveled data; deseasonalizing and short-term forecasting of BTS TransBorder data; and developing new 20-year forecasts of key transportation variables, such as freight ton-miles, projected to the year 2025.

The Team created the USDOT Transportation Forecasting Network to connect staff from the many agencies within the USDOT and the federal government that are involved with forecasting activities. Two meetings were held in FY 2008 to provide an opportunity for introductions and sharing ideas, including a presentation on models used by BTS to analyze transportation scenarios.

BTS staff on the Team have been invited to present at several national and international conferences. At the Federal Forecasting Conference, in April 2008, a BTS staff member chaired the transportation forecasting session, and staff members presented the results from three published BTS special reports. In June, a staff member was invited to deliver a presentation at the International Symposium on Forecasting in Nice, France; the title of the presentation was Forecasting Competition on Transportation Data: A Modal Perspective.

In 2009, BTS will hold an international workshop on transportation forecasting, sponsored jointly with the International Institute of Forecasters.

Geospatial Information

BTS actively contributes to the Nation's 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. The Bureau is the principal geospacial agency at the USDOT, leading and participating in geospatial activities within the Department and overseeing the Department's OMB Circular A-16 and geospatial Exhibit 300 activities.  To better fulfill this role, the position of Geographic Information Officer, which resides within BTS, was created this year by the USDOT and acts as the lead coordinator of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) activity within the Department and spokesperson within the transportation community. 

Journey to Work Travel Times from Clark County Washington to Selected Counties Around Seattle and Portland

Journey to Work Travel Times from Clark County Washington to Selected Counties Around Seattle and Portland. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351.

NOTE: This map is an example of analysis from the Journey to Work project that BTS is doing for the Bureau of the Census and the Federal Highway Administration. BTS' work provides vital input that the Census Bureau will use to complete its update of the Census Transportation Planning Package.

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.

BTS continues to work closely with the FGDC and was acknowledged by the Committee for its contributions to this years FGDC Annual Report regarding GIS activity and geospatial data development within the Department of Transportation. BTS also represents the USDOT in the Geospatial Line of Business and the Department of Homeland Securitys Homeland Standards Working Group. Geographic descriptions of BTS transportation data are part of the Federal Geographic Committee Annual Report 2008.

BTS has adopted an innovative software tool, called “GeoMiler,” originally developed for use with the Commodity Flow Survey, to help researchers produce better estimates of travel from the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP) 2000. CTPP is a special tabulation created by the Census Bureau for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) of responses from households completing the American Community Survey's Journey to Work questions. The special tabulation provides data to support a wide range of transportation planning activities. It is the only Census product that summarizes data by place of work and tabulates the flow of workers between home and work. An effort is currently underway by the Federal Highway Administration and the Bureau of the Census to increase the accuracy of the CTPP data. BTS is adding value to this unique multimodal and multiagency effort by providing staff with expertise in Geospatial Analysis to help create Census Tract to Tract travel time estimates that will be used with the Journey to Work responses. This analysis will produce approximately 25 million records and supply vital data to the transportation community.

National Transportation Library

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:

  • 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 NTL's 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.

During FY 2008, the National Transportation Library’s Reference Team handled more than 3,000 requests per month for information about transportation regulations, policy, statistics, and research. These requests came from Congress, all other levels of government, the media, academia, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and the general public.

In FY 2008, the NTL added several new collections to the NTL Digital Repository. A set of early publications from the Eno Transportation Foundation, containing documents ranging from 1909 to 1978, was added in March 2008. The Foundation donated these documents to the NTL for public use so that students and researchers will always be able to access these important resources. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Research Library digitized its entire run of VDOT research reports, dating from the early 20th century, and provided them to the NTL for public access. The collection of over 2,000 documents will continue to grow as new VDOT research reports are published. The Urban Transportation Monitor published an article about the partnership, which provides a model for other state DOTs to provide access to their research through not only their websites, but also through the NTL Digital Repository, a centralized collection of transportation information.

The NTL also added the entire contents of the Intelligent Transportation System Joint Program Office's Electronic Digital Library (EDL) to the NTL Digital Repository in July 2008. The EDL is an NTL Collection View, which provides specific user communities with a separate search interface that displays only their own collections and appears as their own website, while simultaneously appearing as part of the NTL Digital Repository. The new EDL is available at The collection of over 3,000 documents will continue to grow as new documents are added to the EDL.

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 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.

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.

Seasonally Adjusted Transportation Services Index: 1990 - 2008

Excel | CSV | Table version

Seasonally Adjusted Transportation Services Index: 1990 - 2008. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, use the table version. If you need further assistance, call 800-853-1351.

Sharing Transportation Statistical Knowledge

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

Collaboration with Transportation Data Users and Producers

BTS provides expert support for the National Academies' Transportation Research Board (TRB) and its committees. BTS presentations at the TRB FY 2008 annual and mid-year meetings 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, Freight Transportation Data, Statistical Methodology, and Statistical Computer Software committees. Bureau staff participated in project panels for several of TRB's Cooperative Research Programs, U.S. Coast Guard Boatsuch as the National Cooperative Freight Research Program and the Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program. In September 2008, BTS also cosponsored a North American Freight Flows Workshop with TRB and other USDOT agencies, in Irvine, CA. For information on this conference, go to

BTS leads the Maritime Data Working Group, which recently published the third edition of the Maritime Trade and Transportation report. The Committee on the Maritime Transportation System (CMTS) is led by the USDOT 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, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Committee on the Maritime Transportation System, and the Transportation Security Administration. BTS hosts and regularly updates the Maritime Data Working Group website,, which contains data and statistics, the mission statement, and several joint publications as well as links to the Group members' websites. BTS also actively supports the CMTS.

BTS staff provided the CMTS with data descriptions and sources for the Marine Transportation System Data Inventory, which BTS reviewed and beta tested. The agency also evaluated and commented on the Maritime Administration's 2008 Maritime Operator Survey Concerning Mariner Availability and reviewed the 2008 Glossary of Shipping Terms publication.

The Transportation Librarians Roundtable is a new FY 2008 initiative of the National Transportation Library (NTL). This fiscal year, 98 librarians and information professionals throughout the community participated in the monthly web conference, with an average of 36 people attending each session. Topics have covered special projects, innovative technologies, library marketing, and skill development—such as how to use the Transportation Research Thesaurus.

The NTL actively supports the activities of three regional knowledge networks: Eastern, Midwest, and Western. The NTL provides leadership and coordination of projects in each of the regions. For example, the Eastern Transportation Knowledge Network Digital Collaboratory is a project to increase the availability and accessibility of high-value, high-use resources from each member library in the eastern network. In FY 2008, the NTL coordinated the first cooperative project among all three networks, a milestone in the establishment of a national transportation knowledge network. The resource sharing project is increasing cooperation and information exchanges between libraries, resulting in improved access to information for transportation professionals.


In FY 2008, BTS disseminated approximately 12 million BTS products electronically. These products include BTS publications, datasets, and other resources made available through

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 website or obtained in hardcopy from the BTS bookstore at

Special Reports:

Technical Reports:

BTS routinely produces multimodal compilations of statistics on selected topics. The following publications were updated in FY 2008:

Pocket Guide to Transportation

The Pocket Guide to Transportation, valued by a wide variety of audiences, is a quick reference to the changes in the U.S. transportation system over time and their impact on the Nation's economy, safety, energy use, and the environment. Published annually, the BTS Pocket Guide has been used as a model by USDOT's Maritime Administration for its U.S. Water Transportation Statistical Snapshot, and also by Eurostat.

Maritime Trade and Transportation Report

The third edition of the Maritime Trade and Transportation Report was prepared in support of the Committee on Marine Transportation (CMTS), a major effort to better coordinate marine transportation system activities, resources, and regulations.

Transportation Statistics Annual Report

The Transportation Statistics Annual Report presents transportation facts and modal indicators, the current state of transportation statistics, the economic and social impacts of the U.S. transportation system, and several maps. The latest version is due to be published by BTS in FY 2009 and will include transportation data on the 13 topics specified in the Bureau's legislative mandate.

National Transportation Statistics

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

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

The National Transportation Atlas Database (NTAD)

The National Transportation Atlas Database (NTAD) DVD, comprises a set of 26 nationwide geographic databases of transportation facilities, transportation networks, and associated infrastructure and safety that is compiled and distributed annually via disc and online.

The total number of visits to the BTS website,, was 5,572,980 in FY 2008.

In FY 2008, new data related to transportation safety and infrastructure were added to the NTAD, including Railroad Crossings, National Bridge Inventory, and Alternative Fuel facilities. The data used to compile NTAD is provided by partners within the USDOT and by other federal government agencies. BTS performs structured quality evaluations on the NTAD databases as they are incorporated into research and analysis projects. The annual NTAD releases are sought after by many in the transportation community and support research, analysis, and decision making across all modes of transportation. They are most useful at the national level, but have major applications at regional, state, and local scales throughout the transportation community.

The following were new publications in FY 2008, many of which are related to BTS collaborations and outreach efforts:

  • In cooperation with the Council of University Transportation Centers, the National Transportation Library (NTL) began hosting the CUTC Journal for Transportation Research in FY 2008. The entire publication process is electronic, from submission to publication. All published articles will be archived in the NTL Digital Repository.
  • Three papers were prepared for the 2008 Joint Statistical Meetings:
    1. Quality Assurance Research of the 2007 Commodity Flow Survey,
    2. An Analysis of Nonresponse Bias in the Omnibus Survey, and
    3. A Quasi-Likelihood Generalized Linear Regression Analysis of Transportation-Related Fatality Data.
  • A paper, entitled A Primer on Multifactor Productivity: Description, Benefits, and Uses, was also published by BTS.

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 FY 2008, 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.

The Bureau also provided significant support for the Office of the Secretary of Transportation's release of the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, including simultaneously posting online year-to-date on-time performance tables, the ranking of on-time arrival and departure performance at major airports, as well as airline taxi-out times.

Web Site

The BTS web site,, averaged over 15,000 visitors per day in FY 2008. BTS continually updates its web site with statistics and graphics displays of trends. The web site enables quick response to current events. 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 published on the White House's economic briefing room web site.