By Maria Saporta
One of the architects of our modern MARTA system has passed away.
Alan Kiepper, MARTA’s general manager and CEO from 1972 to 1982, passed away on Aug. 26 in Annapolis, Md. at the age of 81.
I received an email from one of his successors at MARTA — Ken Gregor — who wanted to make sure Kiepper was recognized for the influence he had on Atlanta’s growth.
Kiepper was responsible for the construction of MARTA’s rail system after Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb passed a one-cent sales tax for the rail system in 1971. During construction, Kiepper also oversaw the operations of the MARTA bus system.
Gregor said that Kiepper also helped garner more than a billion dollars in federal funds to construct Atlanta’s subway system.
“His perseverance, fortitude and motto of ‘Find a way to move ahead,’ kept the program moving forward when obstacles slowed the effort,” Gregor said. “His ability to convince the federal government to commit substantial and vital funding insured the construction and operation of the system.”
Kiepper left Atlanta to go run Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. He then went on to become president of the New York City Transit system. He also served as chairman of the American Public Transportation Association between 1990 and 1991 (a position that current MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott holds today).
“After Alan left Atlanta and went to Houston, Texas, he inadvertently aided MARTA,” Gregor said. “While in Houston, Alan was instrumental in convincing Congress to earmark $200 million for the Houston system. The incumbent mayor was opposed to rail and killed the Houston rail program. As a result, MARTA was able to capture the funds allocated to Houston.”
It was with those funds that MARTA was able to complete the rail segment to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
“After I retired and the Atlanta Olympic Committee retained me to obtain buses for the Atlanta Olympics, I met with many of my former colleagues to seek their assistance,” Gregor said.
So Gregor met with Kiepper, who was then in New York, to see if Atlanta could borrow 200 buses. But Kiepper’s staff was opposed to lending Atlanta those 200 buses for the Olympics.
“Alan, recognizing that the Atlanta Olympics was more than a local event but rather a world endeavor, combined with his affection for Atlanta, directed the staff to have 200 buses, straight from the manufacturing plant, delivered to Atlanta at no charge.,” Gregor said.
After the Olympics, Atlanta returned those 200 buses to New York.
“Many viewed Alan as a tough manager with a hard bark. And he was,” Gregor said. “But inside he was ‘soft milk chocolate.’”
Gregor went on to say: “In my judgment, the MARTA system could not have been built as well or as fast as it was without the dedication, competence, and perseverance of Alan Kiepper. Atlanta owes his effort significant gratitude.“