Transportation Economic Trends

Transportation Productivity:

Revenue per Unit of Output


The impact of productivity can be seen through the price charged per unit of output. This page discusses two units of output: (1) freight revenue per ton-mile and (2) passenger revenue per passenger-mile. For modes where users do not typically pay per use, like driving a personal vehicle, data are difficult to obtain and not presented here.
2018 Year-in-Review
  • Air, truck, oil pipeline, and class I rail revenue per ton-mile grew faster in 2018 than the producer price index suggesting an increase in freight transportation costs above inflation.
  • Intercity rail/Amtrak passenger revenue per passenger-mile grew faster in 2018 than the consumer price index (CPI) while air and computer rail grew less than the CPI. The greater growth in intercity rail/Amtrak passenger revenue per passenger-mile suggests an increase in passenger transportation costs above inflation.

Revenue Per Unit Of Output
Increases in productivity often reduce businesses costs, which allow transportation companies to offer lower prices, which, assuming no change in the amount of transportation services purchased by users, translates into lower average revenue per passenger and ton-mile.
Freight Revenue Per Ton-Mile
For for-hire freight transportation, the unit of output is ton-miles, and the measure of what freight shippers pay is the average freight revenue per ton-mile. Comparing average freight revenue per ton-mile to the producer price index (PPI) shows whether it rose more or less than expected due to inflation. The PPI measures overall changes in the selling prices received by transportation service providers for their services and is a measure of inflation but from the producer perspective.
If revenue per mile trends similarly to the PPI, an increase in revenue per ton-mile can be attributed to rising prices. An increase greater than the increase in the PPI suggests an increase in freight transportation costs passed on to purchasers in the form of higher prices. Conversely, an increase less than the PPI suggests a decline in costs passed on to purchasers in the form of lower prices. 
Passenger Revenue Per Passenger-Mile
For for-hire passenger transportation, the unit of output is passenger-miles, and the measure of what travelers pay is the average revenue per passenger-mile. Comparing average freight revenue per ton-mile to the consumer price index (CPI) shows whether it rose more or less than expected due to inflation. The CPI measures overall changes in prices paid by households.
If revenue per mile trends similarly to the CPI, an increase in revenue per passenger-mile can be attributed to rising prices. An increase greater than the CPI suggests an increase in passenger transportation costs passed onto consumers in the form of higher passenger transportation fares. Conversely, when revenue per passenger-mile increases less than the CPI, this suggests greater efficiency allowed transportation companies to offer lower fares.

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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.


Bureau of Transportation Statistics
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.