Transportation Economic Trends

Transportation Productivity:

Labor Productivity


Productivity measures answer important questions about the performance of the transportation sector. This page discusses labor productivity. Data and discussion about total factor productivity are also available.

2022 Year-in-Review

  • Air, at 16.9 percent, followed by transit (4.6 percent), rail (1.3 percent) transportation experienced an increase in labor productivity in 2022 while water, truck, pipeline, and warehousing transportation experienced a decline of 0.3 percent, 0.5 percent, 2.8 percent, and 9.8 percent, respectively.
  • Air transportation labor productivity increased by 16.9 percent from 2021 to 2022 after the largest increase on record of 54.1 percent from 2020 to 2021 (with records beginning in 1990). Air transportation’s labor productivity fell by 53.6 percent from 2019 to 2020 due to COVID-19, which greatly reduced air travel, and relief funding, which prevented employee furloughs (for more information on COVID-19 relief funding, see https://data.bts.gov/stories/s/2cyr-4k8j). While air transportation’s labor productivity grew from 2021 to 2022, it remained below the pre-pandemic 2019 level.
  • Rail transportation labor productivity rose steadily from 2016 to 2022 due to labor hours declining more than gross output. The 2022 labor productivity index level for rail transportation was the highest level on record.
  • Water transportation labor productivity has fallen since 2019. In 2020, this was due to gross output falling more than labor hours. And all years since, labor hours and gross output have increased but because labor hours have risen faster, labor productivity has continued to decline.
  • Truck transportation labor productivity increased steadily from 1990 to 2022 due to gross output increasing two times more than labor hours. Labor productivity decreased marginally (less than 1 percent) in 2021 and 2022 due to labor hours increasing slightly faster than gross output.
  • Transit labor productivity increased after 2020 due to gross output growing faster than labor hours. In 2021, transit labor productivity had the largest growth (16.3 percent) on record due to gross output increasing ten times faster than labor hours. Transit labor productivity reached its highest level on record in 2022.
  • Pipeline labor productivity reached an all-time high in 2018 and has since declined. In 2022, pipeline labor productivity was 8.9 percent below the 2018 high.
  • Warehousing's labor productivity peaked in 2012 and has been decreasing for the last decade due to the faster increase in labor hours than real gross output. The 2022 labor productivity index level for warehousing was at the 2001-2002 level.

Labor Productivity

Labor productivity measures the output per unit of labor input. When an industry has multiple products or services, the outputs are weighted by value. Labor productivity shows industries' responses to regulations and policies, changes in labor costs, and competitive pressures. For example, gains in air productivity from 2001 to 2008 resulted from legacy carriers adopting aggressive labor-saving initiatives and from large output gains among low-cost carriers.

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Recommended citation
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Economic Trends, available at www.bts.gov/product/transportation-economic-trends.


The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation.
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