Smart commute startup Luum steps out of the shadows with big partnerships and expansion plans

Luum CEO Sohier Hall. (Luum Photo)

For nearly seven years, Luum has been quietly helping big Seattle-area employers reshape the commuting habits of their employees. But the privately funded startup has opted to fly under the radar, building out its platform and closely guarding information about its customers. Now, Luum is stepping into the spotlight, thanks to some high-profile partnerships and ambitious growth plans.

Today the City of Bellevue, Wash., is submitting a federal grant application to fund an autonomous vehicle corridor serving several big companies on the Eastside. Luum built the technology infrastructure to support the plan, which will go forward in some form, with or without federal funding.

Meanwhile, Boeing is rolling out the Luum commuting platform to all its work sites across the country. Luum is already serving about 15 big Seattle-area employers, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital. In the next three months, Luum plans to expand beyond Seattle and the Bay Area to additional cities around the country.

“A theme that’s happened over the past year is that there’s a broader recognition that the employer is a center of gravity, it’s an organizing layer for this mobility movement in cities … and Luum is the leader in North America around working with employers,” Luum CEO Sohier Hall said.

Luum’s commuting platform helps employers achieve outcomes, like reducing the number of employees driving alone to work, through incentives and disincentives. The system works for customers like Delta Dental, which reduced the employee drive-alone rate from 75 percent to 15 percent after moving from Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood to South Lake Union, according to Hall. Of course, moving into the city’s congested urban core could have played a role. Still, Delta Dental is seeing far fewer solo commuters, the company hasn’t lost any employees, and is now giving back parking spaces at its new office.

A demo version of the Luum platform. (Luum Image)

Hall left a management role at Microsoft to launch Luum in 2012. Initially, the company was focused on team-based challenges to help employers incentivize all kinds of behaviors. But it quickly became clear to Hall and his team that the biggest need was influencing commuting habits.

“We left to absolutely change the world,” Hall said. “We left Microsoft to do that and to come together around building software to solve hard community-based problems and social problems with a focus on employers.”

In Bellevue, Luum will be the connective tissue between employers, the city, and the ACES (Automated, Connected, Electric, Shared) network as they work together to build out a smart transportation corridor along the heavily congested I-405-SR 167 interchange.

“The alternative would be to create a whole new department to administer and figure this stuff out,” said Steve Marshall, the City of Bellevue’s project lead. “Why do that when the employers are already comfortable with a company like Luum and that kind of administration? This was an unexpected advantage that we have out here with Luum in our backyard to have their capabilities and their experience coordinating this system of incentives and requirements for employees so that they get more people into fewer vehicles.”

Luum is also working with the Smart Columbus team, which won $40 million from the federal government and $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan to create a high-tech transportation system. Hall is in early conversations with Seattle and other cities to work together to shape commuting habits. The key, he says, is to get employers to see commuting as any other benefit.

“By going through the employer, that’s the way that you really activate … this whole new mobility shift that a number of cities are embracing,” Hall said.

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