When the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) rolled out its rules for private bike shares last summer, it was a first-in-the-nation program for governing how dockless bike shares operate within a city. Now, these kinds of programs are everywhere, and two former SDOT employees who played a large role in Seattle’s program have moved on to bike-share boosting in the private sector.
The latest to make the switch: former SDOT director Scott Kubly, who recently accepted an executive level position, chief program officer, at Limebike. The position, first reported by Geekwire’s Monica Nickelsburg, comes a few months after Kubly tendered his resignation.
While the last person in SDOT’s employ to move to private bike share—former bike-share program manager Kyle Rowe left SDOT for Spin back in November—focuses mainly on government relations and policy, Kubly told us that his job at Limebike is much bigger-picture.
“It’s really about aligning government relations and business development and marketing and making sure all those things are aligned,” said Kubly. “I’ll be doing some lobbying, some strategic thinking about where we want to go, and starting to think about how we sync up what our operations are doing based on what we’re hearing about cities we’re operating in.”
While both work with government relations in some capacity, neither Rowe or Kubly can work with SDOT.
Before leading SDOT, Kubly was president of private bike-share company Alta (now Motivate)—who eventually would run Seattle’s failed docked bike-share system, Pronto (which led to a $10,000 ethics fine when Kubly failed to secure a waiver needed to work with his former employer).
We asked if he intended to get back into bike share. “No, actually,” said Kubly. “If you had asked me December 31 where you thought I’d be working and what industry I thought I’d be working in, I wouldn’t have said bike share.”
Kubly said it was a conversation with co-founders Toby Sun and Brad Bao that eventually drew him in, and “their philosophy on how they wanted to grow the company.”
Part of it, said Kubly, is being a part of expanding mobility. “Getting a chance before anyone else on the outside saw it seeing how close they were to getting an e-bike on the ground and then e-scooters on the ground in a matter of months, it was a very hard thing to say no to,” he explained.
“I’m a huge fan of ebikes going back to when we tried to get Pronto electrified... getting people of all ages of abilities,” Kubly continued. “It totally flattens out the city. It’s green, it’s affordable. All the things that got me into transit and transportation.”
With his old position at Alta, his three-plus years at SDOT, and now working for one of Seattle’s newer bike shares, Kubly has seen multiple phases of bike share from the inside.
“What I think I bring to the table is we’ve been there before, I can help clarify what success is going to look like from all perspectives,” said Kubly of his new position.
“I think that the first thing—and I think that bike share now is ubiquitous enough nationally that it’s not as critical—but when people haven’t seen bike share done right,” said Kubly, it can be hard to get onboard with trying it out. “I don’t think we did Pronto right. I think the people that worked on it were trying as hard as they could but we didn’t have a big enough system.”
One thing Kubly learned from Pronto: “It’s gotta be done to scale... you look at Seattle and say we have a 500 bike system [with Pronto], and you go to a system that now probably has 8,000 to 9,000 in the city, and it’s like night and day for how useful they are to the customers.”
Mostly: If the system isn’t run well, it’s not going to work. “You have to make sure the operators in the city really care about their product, and they’re not just dumping bikes,” said Kubly. “Understand that they’re really in it for the long haul.”
That doesn’t mean the current system is perfect—Seattle and other cities that use dockless bike shares are plagued with user issues like bikes getting “parked” in the middle of a lake.
“What I think happens when you first start dockless bike share in cities is there is like a learning curve for how to park the bikes, and there is a little performance art that people undertake in terms of parking bikes in places,” said Kubly. “But the reality is that that happens with anything that’s in the public way.”
He said he was willing to take on a job at Limebike because they “[take] it seriously from an operations standpoint” with messaging on how to park the bikes correctly.
Overall, said Kubly, his job is to make sure that Limebike’s programs are “best in class”—that operations, product, and marketing are all working together to create a program that functions and a product people actually use. Without one, it’s hard to have the other.
“This is a big organization at this point,” said Kubly, although it’s not the size of SDOT yet. “So it needs that thinking across functions.”
Asked if he had any unfinished business at SDOT, Kubly said that SDOT is bigger than one director.
“At the end of the day, all of these things that departments like SDOT do are so big,” he reflected. “When I look at government and working at a place like SDOT, there are things you get to finish that people before you started, and that’s gratifying... there’s things you’re in the middle of that you get to be a part of that you didn’t get to start or finish, like Center City [Connector] streetcar—it’s going to finish long after I’m gone, probably after the next person’s gone.”