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Former SDOT Director Scott Kubly joins LimeBike. (SDOT Photo)

LimeBike has a new executive: Scott Kubly, the former Seattle official who oversaw the biggest transportation levy in city history, the municipal purchase of the now-defunct Pronto cycle service, and the launch of dockless bike-sharing services in the city.

Kubly resigned from his role as director of the Seattle Department of Transportation in December and joined LimeBike as chief program officer last week. He’ll be in charge of LimeBike’s government relations and help the dockless bike-sharing company expand into new markets. Kubly will be working out of LimeBike’s San Mateo, Calif., headquarters.

He told GeekWire he hopes his work in Seattle, “a big, dynamic, politically-charged environment,” will help LimeBike gain an edge in the competitive dockless bike-sharing space.

“I was running a 1,000-person organization that had probably 600 people that were out in the field every day … so a blend of that operations, strategy, and policy, I hope brings an advantage to the company,” Kubly said.

LimeBikes in Seattle’s Discovery Park. (Photo by Amy Bishop)

It’s not hard to see why LimeBike recruited Kubly to lead its government affairs and expansion efforts. He’s held leadership roles at transportation departments in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Seattle. He was a senior advisor at Alta Bicycle Share before the City of Seattle contracted with that company to launch the Pronto bike-sharing service in 2014. But Kubly encountered some speed bumps on his long career path.

After Seattle and Alta partnered on Pronto, then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray hired Kubly as SDOT director to lead the bike-share program and other initiatives. Seattle ethics law mandated that Kubly recuse himself from SDOT’s dealings with Pronto or obtain a waiver to continue working on those projects. Kubly says he intended to submit the waiver but sent it to the wrong email address, a mistake that resulted in a $5,000 fine.

“I think what came out is that it was pretty clear that I was trying to comply with the ethics rules and I made a clerical error,” Kubly told GeekWire this week.

Pronto Cycle Share was short lived in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo)

Under Kubly’s leadership, the city bailed out Pronto for $1.4 million when the service became insolvent due to fewer member sign-ups than expected. Last year, Seattle shut Pronto down for good.

Related: Seattle sets a new standard for private companies to launch public services, and other cities take note

Three dockless bike-sharing services rose from Pronto’s ashes under a novel permitting system launched by SDOT under Kubly. A pilot program brought thousands of brightly colored shared bicycles from Spin, LimeBike, and Ofo to Seattle streets just a few months after talks with the companies began. The speedy process is attributed to SDOT’s novel permitting program.

Now Kubly is an executive at one of the companies that his city department helped get off the ground in Seattle. To avoid conflict-of-interest concerns, Kubly will not be lobbying or working with SDOT directly.

“To the extent that there’s a private partner that we’re wanting to work with, I can help with that but try not to provide any sort of policy guidance that would affect SDOT,” he said.

Update: Kubly is not the first SDOT alum to join a private bike-sharing company after leaving the department. Kyle Rowe, the city’s former bike-share program manager, is now running government partnerships at Spin, according to Curbed.

Before joining LimeBike, Kubly was in the running to become city manager of Austin, Texas. He didn’t get the job but says he’s excited about where he landed, because of LimeBike’s traction. The company has raised $132 million — funding that raises some eyebrows — and expanded to 33 cities since launching in June 2017. In February, LimeBike rolled out electric-assist bicycles in Seattle and a handful of other markets.

“That level of speed and drive is intoxicating,” Kubly said.

In Seattle, LimeBike continues to operate under a pilot along with its competitors. That program limits each operator to 4,000 shared bicycles on Seattle streets at a time. Illegal “parking jobs” and the sudden profusion of neon bikes have some speculating that the Seattle bike-share market is oversaturated. LimeBike CEO Toby Sun doesn’t think so.

LimeBikes lake
Two LimeBikes in Seattle’s Green Lake. (Twitter Photo / @JNUDebbie)

“From our data and the demand that we’ve seen — now we have a cap of 4,000 — we definitely see that’s not enough for a huge market like Seattle,” he said.

Each of Seattle’s three bike-share operators are waiting until the pilot ends to add more bikes to their fleets. Sun said he believes the city will wrap up the pilot sometime this year.

When asked whether his experience would give LimeBike an advantage over its competitors, Kubly said, “I hope so. I think what I’m going to bring to the table is a blend of strategic thinking and political acumen and operational know-how. “

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