Transit systems reunite owners with lost items

Posted on August 17, 2012 by Erin Spandorf, Assistant Editor

Every day, passengers leave behind cell phones, keys, and other personal items on buses and railcars. It is up to transit system lost and found departments to catalog, store, and, in some cases, try to track down the owners of these items.

The claim rate for items left behind on Snohomish, Wash.-based Community Transit’s system is 35%, with high-value items like cellphones and wallets being the highest, said Rob Jensen, sales and distribution supervisor.

According to the agency’s lost and found policy, Community Transit drivers must check their buses at the end of each route and turn in any items they find to the dispatch window at the end of their shift. The items are then put in lock bags and delivered to the lost and found where they are cataloged. The drivers also fill out tags for the items with information such as the times, places and dates that the items were found, as well as a description of what the item looks like and where it was left.

“We do a lot of work to get the items back to the customer,” Jensen said.

Catherine Hosinski, media spokesperson for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), explained that CTA has a similar policy regarding lost items. Like Community Transit, CTA’s drivers collect lost items at the end of each run and turn them in to be documented. But, because the CTA does not have a central location for lost and found items, customers have to contact the bus garage where the bus they use operates out of.

Both Hosinski and Jensen said that the lost and found services at their operations will look through the personal information in lost cellphones, wallets and on prescription medication labels in an effort to find a way to contact the owner. Jensen explained that they will go through the contact lists in cellphones to try to find a home phone number or a contact labeled “Mom” or “Dad.”

Jensen says that the small amount of space Community Transit has to work with for their lost and found makes it imperative for them to stay organized. All items are sorted by day and item type as well as organized by day in baskets and by week on shelves. Umbrellas are organized by week in boxes.

Due to space limitations, items are only held for 30 days, at which point, items of higher value are taken to the county sheriff’s office where they are held for an additional 60 days. After the full 90 days is up, items with personal information are destroyed while the others are sold at auction.
As for the CTA, lost and found items are also kept for 30 days and more expensive items are kept for 60 days. If items are not retrieved, they are either discarded or donated.

While the most commonly lost items, according to Hosinski and Jensen, are cellphones, wallets, keys, clothes, umbrellas, bags, laptops and bicycles, Hosinski said that the CTA has seen a microwave, a car tire with the rim and an urn with ashes, which was quickly returned to its owner.

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