In the 1980s, residents of New York City commonly complained that "no one was in charge" of public transportation stations. This complaint pointed to the larger issue that the New York City Transit Authority was viewed as an enormous, faceless bureaucracy. Transit stations had "station superintendants" that were responsible for overseeing fare collection and cleaning, but each one oversaw too many stations to provide a recognizable presence. Broken equipment, fare evasion, harassment by panhandlers and the general expeditious handling of maintenance issues were handled remotely, often leaving citizens feeling as though their concerns were not being addressed at all.
The Station Manager Program was designed to ensure the presence of a visible, proactive, front-line employee who is empowered to coordinate all station activities. The station manager must make himselve accessible and be responsive to transit customers. Through a teamwork approach, the station manager cuts across traditional divisional relationships and works with support staff to improve station conditions and provide a safe, clean, well-maintained and customer-oriented station environment. Station managers are in charge of an average of four stations, a significant improvement over the previous system in which superintendants oversaw an average of fourteen stations.
As part of the Station Manager Program, a large poster has been affixed on the wall of every train and subway station with the name, photograph, and phone number of the station's manager. During the morning and evening rush hours station managers wear white carnations and stand at small wooden podiums at major foot traffic crossroads inside one of their stations. This increased visibility lends itself to the impression that the Transit Authority is not just a faceless bureaucracy, but one that it is aware of and cares for its constituents.
The Station Manager Program has received both positive feedback from customers and favorable media mention. Although customer satisfaction was the program's initial principal objective, considerable improvements in the quality of Transit Authority operation has been a welcome additional consequence. Between 1991 and 1992, stations under the Station Manager Program averaged a cleanliness rating that was a quarter point higher (rated only on a four point scale) than those that were not. The same stations carried a functional equipment average of 97.3 percent, compared to 95 percent of those not yet under the auspices of the the Station Manager Program.