Virgin Hyperloop One has found a new CEO, and it’s someone who knows a thing or two about running both big and small transportation systems. Jay Walder, who recently left his position as CEO of bike-share operator Motivate, will become the new chief executive of the futuristic transportation company. Walder will replace Rob Lloyd, who served as CEO for three years.
The company also selected a new chairperson to replace Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, who stepped down last month. Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of Dubai’s DP World, was named to that position.
Walder is certainly an interesting choice with an impressive résumé. He ran New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 2009 to 2011, after helping to overhaul London’s aging mass transit system to global acclaim. His tenure at the MTA was a bit bumpier. He oversaw the installation of countdown clocks and other technological improvements, but also a series of unpopular fare cuts and its worst service cuts in a generation. From there, he went on to run the MTR Corporation, a transportation company based in Hong Kong.
In 2014, he joined Motivate as CEO, and led the turnaround of the company’s largest bike-share system, Citi Bike in New York City. Launched in 2013, Citi Bike was popular with New Yorkers, yet it was in financial and operational trouble when Walder took over the following year. He re-energized the program with new software, new bicycles, and an expansion that eventually doubled the number of bikes in the system to 12,000.
Motivate was acquired by ride-hail giant Lyft in July 2018. The company, which is being renamed Lyft Bikes, is the largest bike-share operator in the country by a wide margin, with franchises in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC, among others.
“I have focused my career on using technology to advance innovation in transportation, so I could not pass up the opportunity to lead the company that has pioneered hyperloop,” Walder said in a statement.
Walder will oversee Virgin Hyperloop One as it enters its next crucial phase. The company, which aims to reduce travel times by operating carbon-fiber pods through nearly airless tubes at close-to supersonic speeds, has demonstrated its technology at its test site in Nevada. The company now plans to build its first fully operational hyperloop, most likely in India, where the government is interested in constructing a hyperloop in the Pune-Mumbai region. The company is also interested in building a hyperloop in Missouri. (A previous deal to build a hyperloop in Saudi Arabia fell through after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.)
Bin Sulayem’s election as chairperson is less of a surprise. DP World, the global port operator, is on track to become Virgin Hyperloop One’s largest investor. Virgin Hyperloop One aims to transport both people and cargo through its super-fast system.