Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cuts solo driving with employee programs

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is renowned for helping people lead healthy, productive lives. And at its headquarters in Seattle, the foundation encourages its employees to adopt healthy transportation and commuting habits.

All full-time commuters at the foundation benefit from an internal transportation program. Established in 2011 by Bree Moore, the foundation’s transportation and life safety program administrator, the program has likely contributed to the decline in traffic in downtown Seattle.

In 2010, 88 percent of employees at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation drove alone to their jobs. Within one year of the new program, that number dropped to 42 percent and continues to decrease.

Adjusting that drive-alone rate didn’t happen magically. It took time to educate staff about their transportation options, and implement incentives that would motivate them to change their commute behavior.

“First we set goals, then we gave our employees the flexibility to choose how they travel to and from work each day. There are a lot of [employer programs] that do not or are not in the position to provide all the information and the choices we offer our employees,” Moore said during a recent webinar co-sponsored by the Association for Commuter Transportation and Best Workplaces for Commuters.

(The session also included innovative employee-transportation approaches happening at Genentech in San Francisco and The MITRE Corporation in Northern Virginia.)

When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation moved to its new campus five years ago, Seattle required a transportation demand program to be put in place. Moore jumped into action, predicting that the location change provided the best opportunity to try to influence and inform new commute habits.

Gates mode split 2015

Mode split as of 2015 at the Gates Foundation, four years after its move. Click to enlarge.

Moore and the foundation teamed-up with Luum, a Seattle-based enterprise-mobility software provider, to understand employee commute activity, motivate behavior change, and provide all commute services in one seamless experience.

The foundation’s TDM program works by:

  • Disincentivizing parking and making it much more flexible. The foundation charges a daily rate rather than locking employees into monthly parking permits.
  • Using parking-management software that deducts parking charges directly out of employees’ paychecks, allowing them to be split between carpools, and waiving fees for vanpoolers.
  • Using a corresponding $3 daily incentive that is awarded to employees who take any form of alternative transportation to work, and
  • Offering a comprehensive range of transportation benefits for alternative modes, including transit, monorail, and ferry passes.
Employees log commute behaviors in this portal, where parking fees also appear.

Employees log commute behaviors in this calendar, where parking fees also appear.

“The Luum platform was essential in enabling us to bring together this holistic transportation-benefits program that centers around the foundation’s Commute Tool: a one-stop-shop experience for employees to find out about all of their commute options,” Moore said.

“Robust reporting and data insights gathered through the Commute Tool also help us to understand commute behavior and continually refine our program for the greatest behavior change and bottom-line cost savings.”

Photos, from top: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation office building reflects the nearby Space Needle (Wonderlane, Flickr, Creative Commons). Presentation screenshots from Bree Moore.

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