Transport index will gauge U.S. economy

Transport index will gauge U.S. economy

WASHINGTON - A new index that uses freight and passenger service volumes to measure economic strength was unveiled Thursday by the Department of Transportation.

The Transportation Services Index, introduced by Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta during a visit to the New York Stock Exchange, is designed to gauge transportation's contribution to U.S. economy.

The index, which will have about a two-month lag, will be launched in March and include data dating to 1990.

Mineta said that the TSI will provide a monthly snapshot of freight and passenger transportation in the U.S., and could be the "Dow-Jones" index of the transportation sector.

The index is important, "because the for-hire transportation industry, like other service industries, have not been traditionally well-represented in economic indicators," Mineta said. "The Transportation Services Index will fill that huge void, and give us a solid reading of where the economy is going."

Jack Wells, chief economist for DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, said that the index will be made up of eight component indices, freight traffic by truck, rail, air and inland waters, passenger transportation by air, rail and bus, and mass transit.

He said that DOT will tap outside sources for some data. The American Trucking Associations keeps tabs on truck tonnage, and rail freight ton-miles are measured by the Association of American Railroads. The U.S. Corps of Engineers collects data on tonnage moved via inland waterways.

Mineta said that transportation services make up 11 percent of the gross domestic product, and provide 11.6 million jobs.

He said that the TSI will show the link between transportation and the nation's economic health.

"A transportation system that keeps the business of America moving is vital to the strength of our nations economy," he said. "If products cannot be delivered quickly, we risk putting the brakes on the economy."