Skip to main content
The FRED® Blog

Uncategorized

Staying put during the pandemic: Fewer miles in trains, planes, and automobiles

An earlier FRED Blog post covered the trends and cycles in the average number of miles per person traveled on the road. More recently, we’ve seen changes in all kinds of travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The graph above uses data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics on the number of miles traveled each month by people riding trains, planes, and automobiles.

  • A rail passenger-mile is 1 passenger carried 1 mile.
  • An air revenue passenger-mile is 1 paying passenger carried 1 mile.
  • And vehicle miles traveled is the sum of the number of roadway miles traveled by each vehicle and (barring unoccupied self-driving cars) amounts to at least 1 person per vehicle per mile.

Before the pandemic, in February 2020, for each mile traveled by rail there were 167 miles traveled by air and 511 miles traveled by road vehicle. But as professional sport games and cultural and recreational venues closed, personal travel plans were scrapped; and the need for social distancing replaced business travel with teleconferencing.

Between February and April

  • Travel by rail declined 92%.
  • Travel by air declined 96%.
  • Travel on roads declined 41%.

All types of miles rebounded between April and May. Travel by rail and air improved some but the difference is almost imperceptible. Travel on roads rebounded the most, which may reflect a partial substitution from trains and planes to automobiles, where social distancing is much easier to accomplish. But as of May, road miles still remained 27% below their February value.

Remember to bookmark the FRED Blog. Visit us often and rack up your frequent reader miles.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Rail Passenger Miles.”
From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select “Air Revenue Passenger Miles” and “Vehicle Miles Traveled.” Next, customize Line 1 by typing the formula a/10 and clicking “Apply.” Last, from the “Edit Graph” panel, click on the “Format” tab. Under Line 3, select “Y-Axis position: right” and select colors to taste. Note: Because the order of magnitude of each series is dramatically different, we customized the data units and graph format to allow us to see the three series at once.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: AIRRPMTSID11, RAILPMD11, VMTD11

Early economic effects from “safer at home” practices

What Census data from the Quarterly Services Survey can show us

Social distancing and “safer at home” practices have been in effect for many months now, so what do the data show us so far? These protective measures have had widespread effects across the economy; but some industries were affected much more quickly, as behavioral changes predated any official stay-at-home directives.

Our first example is transportation revenue, which varied according to whether people or goods were being transported: The graph above shows the quarter-to-quarter percent change in seasonally adjusted revenue for air, truck, and ground passenger transportation and couriers and messengers over the past five years. We note contrasting experiences for the four modes in quarters 1 and 2 of 2020.

  • Airline transportation fell 17.8%, then 78.5%.
  • Transit and ground passenger transportation fell 9.1%, then 40.4%.
  • Truck transportation was flat, then fell 16.7%
  • Couriers and messengers rose 2.3%, then 6.4%.

Even if you weren’t directly affected, you likely know that safer-at-home practices had an immediate impact on the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector of the economy. The graph above shows the percent change in seasonally adjusted revenue for amusement parks and arcades, gambling industries, and performing arts companies—including a striking decline in first-quarter revenue that was amplified in the second quarter. This decline coincided with the en masse cancelations of date nights, family outings, and spring break activities:

  • Amusement parks and arcades fell 19.1%, then 81.1%.
  • Gambling industries declined 12.3%, then 45.8%.
  • Performing arts companies declined 19.0%, then 66.1%.

Children have been seen and heard lately, at least in the media’s coverage of school closings and re-openings, homeschooling, and changes in child care. So you may assume day care service revenue took a hit, with many providers closing their doors in mid to late March. While some individual providers may have been affected early, seasonally adjusted revenue did not significantly change in the first quarter. But in the second quarter, seasonally adjusted revenue fell 35.1%.

One of the few industries to see growth in the second quarter of 2020 was community food and housing and emergency and other relief services, highlighting the substantial efforts of public and private groups to respond to the profound hardships faced during these uncertain times. Seasonally adjusted, the industry increased 31.2% in the second quarter after increasing 5.6% in the first quarter of 2020.

We have only two quarters of data available since the pandemic hit, so we have only just begun to measure the impact COVID-19 has had on the services economy. Although the duration and overall effects are still unclear, unprecedented revenue trends are likely.

How these graphs were created: From FRED’s main page, browse data by “Release” and search for and select “Quarterly Services Survey.”

First graph: Filter the available series to “Seasonally Adjusted” and “Transportation.” Select “Percent Change” for “Total Revenue for Air Transportation,” “Total Revenue for Truck Transportation,” and “Total Revenue for Transit and Ground Passenger Transportation.” Click “Add to Graph” (at the top or bottom of page). From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab’s search box to find “REV492TPSA” and click “Add Data Series.” Select “5Y” from the date selection options above the graph canvas.

Second graph: Filter the available series to “Seasonally Adjusted” and “Tax.” Select “Percent Change” for “Total Revenue for Gambling Industries” and “Total Revenue for Amusement Parks and Arcades.” Click “Add to Graph” (at the top or bottom of page). From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab’s search box to find “REV7111APSA” and click “Add Data Series.” Select “5Y” from the date selection options above the graph canvas.

Third graph: Filter the available series to “Seasonally Adjusted”. Next, select “View All” for “Concepts” and then select the “Child” filter. Select “Percent Change” for “Total Revenue for Child Day Care Services, All Establishments”. Click on the “Add to Graph” button at the top or bottom of the page. Select “5Y” from the date selection options above the graph canvas.

Fourth graph: Filter the available series to “Seasonally Adjusted”. Next, select “View All” for “Concepts” and then select the “Community” filter. Select “Percent Change” for “Total Revenue for Community Food and Housing and Emergency and Other Relief Services”. Click on the “Add to Graph” button at the top or bottom of the page. Select “5Y” from the date selection options above the graph canvas.

Suggested by Katherine McNitt from the U.S. Census Bureau.

View on FRED, series used in this post: REV481TPSA, REV484TPSA, REV485TPSA, REV492TPSA, REV6242APSA, REV6244APSA, REV7111APSA, REV7131TPSA, REV7132TPSA

The increasing appetite for air conditioning

Tracking changes in the output of electric and gas utilities

The FRED Blog often discusses the regular economic ups and downs that occur over the course of a year (eg, fruit and house prices). Today, we look at some big changes in the seasonal pattern of electricity and gas production.

The data are from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System—specifically, the Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization (G.17) survey—which show the quarterly changes in the industrial production of electricity and gas utilities.*

The FRED graph above shows electricity and gas production from 2000 to 2020, which peaks twice per year: in winter (first quarter) and summer (third quarter). For most of these 20 years, the winter and summer peaks have been very similar in value. But that has not always been the case.

Traveling back in time with FRED, we can see the same quarterly percent changes in electricity and gas production for 1939-1960. Notice how little variation there was in production between 1939 and the end of 1946. Heavier reliance on coal for heating and the military production effort during WWII can explain this steady pattern in the data.

In the first decade after WWII, winter was the peak annual season for producing electricity and gas, with no spikes in production during the summer (third quarter). But the increase in the use of air conditioning by businesses and households changed things: Summer soon became the second annual peak for utility production that we see today.

The FRED Blog team hopes you are safely enjoying the end of summer, perhaps from the comfort of your temperature-controlled home or office. We thank you for including our blog in your summer reading and hope you enjoy it year-round.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Industrial Production: Electric and Gas Utilities, Not Seasonally Adjusted, (IPG2211A2N).” From the “Edit Graph” panel, customize Line 1 by searching for and adding “Industrial Production: Electric and Gas Utilities, Seasonally Adjusted, (IPUTIL).” Next, type the formula ((a-b)/b)*100 and click “Apply.” Use the “Format” tab to select “Mark type: Diamond.” To travel back in time with FRED, adjust the dates of the graph.

*Btw, we use the formula ((Non-seasonally adjusted production – Seasonally adjusted production) / Seasonally adjusted production) x 100 to show by how much the production of electricity and gas utilities changes each quarter relative to its seasonally adjusted value. We multiply that ratio by 100 to show the value of those changes as a percent.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: IPG2211A2N, IPUTIL


Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Back to Top