One might think with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and passengers carrying more packages than usual on buses, trains and trolleys, transit organizations’ lost and found departments could be busier than usual. For large authorities like the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the lost and found bins are often full throughout the year, not just during the Christmas season.
Sift through some of the “treasures” found on SEPTA’s approximately 1,400 buses and you will see the typical umbrella, lunch bag and hat. “On routes that carry a lot of students, we often find textbooks and musical instruments,” said Dave Rogers, SEPTA's senior director, surface transportation. But for every flute, lone glove and diaper bag, there are even more unique items.
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“We get a lot of four-footed canes,” said Fred Melhuish, assistant director, transportation, at SEPTA’s Midvale Bus District. “It makes you wonder if the person needed the cane to get on the bus, why wouldn’t they need it when they left?” Other found oddities that leave operators and dispatchers scratching their heads include bowling balls, a vacuum cleaner, dentures, a guitar synthesizer and bikes (left on a bus’ bike rack). “We had an operator turn in a box of medical records that was left behind,” said Chris Valentine, assistant director, transportation. “Luckily, there was contact information for the company, and we were able to get the sensitive materials to the right hands.”
For SEPTA surface transportation, each district has a room dedicated for lost and found. Items are placed in dated bins and held for 30 days. “We hope that someone will come forward to claim their property,” said Valentin. “If there is identification on the item, we will send a card to the owner. Otherwise, we have to wait until the owner reaches out to SEPTA.”
Working with the lost and found is like playing detective. “For phones, tablets and laptops we look for some number we can call or an email address,” said Valentin. “When we are able to track down an owner, often they didn’t think to contact SEPTA to see if the item was left on the bus.”
“We’ve called banks, dentists’ offices, lawyers, anything to try to reunite the owners with their items, especially when it is something we know is important,” said Rogers, who recently put his sleuthing skills to use to find the owner of a wallet left on a bus on Black Friday. Using just the number for a local bank branch, Rogers tracked down the owner. Within just a few days she was ecstatically retrieving her property — and all of its contents intact — at SEPTA’s headquarters, making the holiday season happy once again.
“More often than not, we get calls from people whose items we don’t have,” said Melhuish. “But if it was left behind on the bus, there’s a good chance it was turned in.”
Just because something was lost on a city bus, train or trolley doesn’t mean it can’t be found. Miracles can happen all year long, not just during the holidays.
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