Tim Bornholdt

The Man in the MTA’s Money Room

Nearby, chunky steel boxes, each about the size of a toaster oven, are lined up on long tables. They’re the currency vaults from the MetroCard machines, and they arrive from the stations locked. “When you pull them out of the machine, they self-seal, and the only key exists here.” A couple of clerks are methodically opening them up, stacking the bills into little plastic racks and then feeding them into a bank of huge bulk counting machines. “Eighty thousand notes per hour,” Putre says. “It’s going to authenticate, then count, then sort, then strap, all in one step. What four people can do in this room used to take 12 people before we had this machine. Before the pandemic, we’d run two, three machines every single day. Now we run a couple of days a week.” It’s satisfying to encounter the mechanical whir of it all, especially this year: bills and coins, paper and metal, notes and specie instead of ones and zeroes.

This was a delightful look at the operation required to count all the money that flows through New York’s public transit system.