In the Luumlight

ICYMI: Seattle Children’s Hospital Webinar Q&A, Data & More

On March 3, we hosted the first in Luum’s 2020 Webinar Series with Seattle Children’s Hospital. In case you weren’t able to join us, the recap one pager, attendee breakdown and full Q&A are now available below.

Seattle Children’s Hospital Director of Transportation, Jamie Cheney, took us on a deep dive into the policies and results that have shaped the organization’s trailblazing commute program. Using a strategic blend of incentives and disincentives—which they activate and administer through Luum—SCH has reduced its drive-alone rate to 33%. Learn more on SCH’s successful commute program in the recap one pager below.

The webinar surveyed 128 commute leaders on two crucial questions:

What is your primary barrier to commute program success?
What is your top commute program business motivator?

Webinar Q&A

Q: How many people are on your transportation team and roughly what is your budget and what does that come from revenue and parking? How much autonomy do you have in implementing policy from the Transportation Team? 

Jamie: Okay those are a lot of questions all rolled up into one. I will start by saying we have a fairly large team, we’ve got about forty-five people on the Transportation Team at Seattle Children’s. I need to qualify that a little bit, but about thirty-five of those folks are shuttle drivers. We offer sixteen shuttle day sixteen hours a day. It’s a big operation and we have chosen for various reasons to keep that in-house as opposed to outsource it to many capable providers out there but we keep that in-house and that’s the majority of our people.  

We need to make some significant change and we needed to move the dial about thirteen percentage points so some of the strategic planning we did was, okay we’ve got twenty years to do that. What kind of change do we need to seek every year to ensure we have every year?  

So, we broke it down by year, and if we can’t do thirteen percentage points overnight so we kind of broke it down and then we sort of knew the magnitude of our effort.  That also helps determine how many people we need to help make this happen. Like I said about thirty-five of our staff are shuttle drivers and the other ten our folks that help design our program so: 

  • Transportation planners 
  • Customer service folks 
  • Financial person 

So, about a third of our budget comes from parking revenue and so the parking revenue is significant. The rest of it comes from the organization there making an investment in it. So, let’s just say our program is many millions of dollars and that are required to make this change.  

This is where leadership is really important and they know that we need to make this change and where willing to make those investments so; several million dollars a year devoted to this. Just to give you a sense our biggest costs are our commute bonus. Second biggest cost is our transit pass followed by our shuttle program.   

Q: Why do you survey every two years? How is that thirty percent goals sort of set? Is there any consideration you might lower it given you are pretty close in your scale ten years out? 

Jamie: We survey every two years and that is a requirement a regulatory requirement from the city and state that we must survey every two years. They are the ones telling us we must do that. 

Q: How is that 30% chosen and might it get lowered? 

Jamie: The 30% was not chosen by us it was chosen by the city. The city said you must reach 30% that’s your goal. They did all sorts of analysis you know ten, twelve years ago when we were negotiating our development plan. I don’t know that was a little bit before my time and I don’t know how they arrived at that but I can tell you that was the lowest SOV goal than any other employer in the city and remains one of the lowest most aggressive goals in the city. 

We are within striking distance so would we like to lower that? I would say no I think it will be a significant undertaking just to maintain it. The city hasn’t asked us to go any lower however, our development plan goes through 2030 and if want to build buildings beyond 2030 in which there’s some room on our campus to do that the city may say “okay after 2030 if you want to build anything after that we will revisit that target.”  

My guess is they will probably lower it but target is not up to us. I have no doubt we will meet it. It is possible we can even get beyond it but there is not mandate right now to go even lower.  

Q: How did you settle on $4.50 for a commute bonus? 

Jamie: Well I’ve been with Children’s for about six years and prior to that about four years earlier there was a commute bonus that was like $2.00 a day then it became $3.00 a day. I arrived when it was $3.25. I think that overtime we have tried to understand what motivates people. The last time we raised it to $4.50 we raised it in conjunction with raising parking rates. So, at the time we decided well if we are going to raise parking rates we want to add a carrot so to the degree that we could bundle those together it seemed like a good and wise strategy. I can’t say that’s happened every time but I think $4.50 we may have kind of hit our limit there and I don’t believe Children’s can go above that with five, six, seven, or eight.  

We are a Not for Profit Organization and we don’t have the resources to continue to escalate it. I think we think about it as let’s have one let’s keep it in place but it won’t necessarily scale and change all the time.  

Q: Why don’t you fully subsidize transit passes? 

Jamie: There was a time when we did fully subsidize transit passes. As we have been more successful in lowering our SOV rate our costs go up. Our senior leaders are well aware of that relationship between cost and performance because I bring it to their attention all the time. The more successful we are the more it costs us.  

A couple of years ago when our transit costs were really skyrocketing we decided that it will remain sustainable that we could offer and we were going to ask our employee to make a small co-pay and it is a very small percentage of an overall cost for that. That seems to be a good partnership with our employees.  

Q: Is the commute bonuses for all employees regardless of their SOV status? 

Jamie: Currently yes. 

Q: What do you consider ride-share? How do you incentivize carpooling and vanpooling both with parking as well? 

Jamie: We are going to incentivize carpooling and vanpooling in two ways. We don’t have enough parking on our campus and so most everyone like 90% of people have to park offsite. The only folk’s onsite right now is doctors and those who carpool and vanpool and have ADA needs. Our carpool and vanpool is highly incentivized because people don’t want to park offsite and then take the shuttle they want to park right on campus, you know everybody wants to park by the front door. It’s really sort of a premium when carpools and vanpooler can park on campus and we have a way they can do that and that’s automated by our Luum platform.  

At Seattle Children’s you can carpool dynamically and you don’t have to declare who your carpool partner is you don’t have to be on some list. The act of swiping two badge-readers at our parking lot allows a carpooler to come in park and the Luum system lists the parking charge between the two.  

So, now as a carpooler you’re paying half the parking rate and because you are carpooling you earn a commute bonus. Many people who vanpool and carpool get the benefit of parking on campus with 50% of the parking rate, and they get a commute bonus so a lot of incentives around carpooling, and vanpooling. We also have a carpool and vanpool feature on our Luum site which allows people to go in and look for vanpools and carpools and sign up and understand how to connect with others at Seattle Children’s so that we are making those connections.  

Q: Was there any backlash with employees or was there a mass exodus from employees? 

Jamie: I was not at Seattle Children’s when about ten years ago when the decision was made to go from free parking to paid-parking. I have heard stories from those who were here at the time that it was painful for the Transportation Team and painful or our employees who had not paid for parking and now had to pay for parking.  

So, yes I think there was some pain but the good news is that the team at the time had the support of senior leadership and I can tell you from having increased parking subsequently the best way to do that is… I always go to our COO and say “We need to raise parking rates. Here’s why and I would like you to send out an email in our intranet or newsletter that parking rate announcement come from him. It doesn’t come from Transportation?” 

It isn’t about transportation this is about the organization trying to achieve a goal, so it’s very useful that that messaging comes from a senior leader. It can only come from a senior leader if it’s connected to our mission, and to our business motivator. If it’s just about parking and parking rates nobody cares and that entire wrap sort of comes back onto the Transportation Department. When we do big changes we always ask our senior leaders to make that announcement.   

Q: How do you enforce or how do you know people are biking and not walking? How do you know who is driving or vanpooling or carpooling? 

Jamie: I’m assuming that’s from a perspective of how do we enforce it. Only those who aren’t driving get a commute bonus. For data purposes and program design we want to know whether you: 

  • Bike 
  • Carpools 
  • Vanpools 

But from a commute bonus standpoint we don’t care how you get here as long as you didn’t bring a car to campus. From a commute bonus standpoint we do, do some audits and it doesn’t really matter to us that you said you biked but you really walked to work. It does matter to us if you said you biked to work but you really drove to work. We have some check and balances within the Luum platform and we do a bit of auditing beyond that just to make sure people are complying with the rules on it.  

Q: What is the tipping point that made you an enterprise platform? 

Jamie: Well we had a platform prior to Luum that we designed with a different provider many years earlier that supported all the things we wanted to do which was: 

  • Integrate parking 
  • Integrate commute bonus scale 

All of this stuff and so we did. We worked with a provider who did that and they did a nice job. Several years later they weren’t supporting the platform and there were problems in the platform and they weren’t very responsive. So, we decided that we couldn’t risk that anymore and we needed to go and find a partner who could replicate that platform and help improve it, be it a development partner and be really responsive and reliable and we found that in Luum.  

I’m happy to say that Luum helped us replicate that first platform and has really taken it to the next level and is thinking about thing and features that we didn’t even think of. So, we are just really thrilled it’s a platform that’s well supported and Luum continues to innovate on all sorts of things that we benefit from. 

Q: What new features would you like to launch in the next few years or what new policies for the program? 

Jamie: I mentioned earlier that we have a very robust shuttle service and that shuttle service is highly valued by our employees. At the same time we have a transit partner in King County Metro who runs a terrific transit system and there are gaps in that transit system so that’s why we provide shuttle service, is to fill those gaps.  

So, from a strategic standpoint I in program development would like to reduce our investment in shuttle service and rely more on metro. One of the biggest things that we’re doing right now and most important at the moment I think is working with Metro to help fill these gaps and to have more frequency of service in certain corridors that serve the hospital.  

That isn’t going to happen overnight so I guess how I would describe that is we are strategically integrating our service with Metro so that our shuttle service is complimentary to Metro but does not supplant Metro. In my opinion we’re a medical facility and that’s our core business and our core business is not about running a small transit agency. I would like to divest from shuttle service over time and rely more on a robust public transit.  

Stay tuned for the full Q&A in the coming weeks!

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