APTA | Passenger Transport
September 8, 2008

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Public Transit Lost and Founds Serve Many Purposes
Susan Berlin, Senior Editor

Lost and found departments at transit systems across the country aren’t just places to house such commonly forgotten items as umbrellas, cell phones, and eyeglasses.   In some notable instances, they have reunited passengers with loved ones and helped our troops abroad keep in touch with their families.

In one case, an agency made sure a student could stay in the U.S. to continue his studies.  Pat Gilbert of the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in Lansing, MI recounted this story of a man who left his passport on a CATA bus.  “When he came to get it, he had to hug me and kept bowing and then a kiss on both cheeks ... he said I had saved his life because he would have had to go back to Turkey and they may not have let him back to the U.S. to finish his education.”

It’s not unusual for bicyclists who attach their bikes to the front rack on a bus to forget to take them off when they depart.  While most owners ultimately claim their bikes, CATA donates unclaimed bikes after a period of time to the Share-A-Bike Program which, in turn, distributes them to needy members of the community.

When Valley Metro in Phoenix replaced its old fareboxes, it found a variety of non-money items inside, including religious medals and crosses, buttons, pieces of jewelry, heart-shaped charms, and guitar picks.

“I’m assuming most people just reached into their pockets and deposited into the fareboxes what they thought were coins (or maybe had hoped the farebox would count if they were short the fare),” said spokesperson Marie Chapple. "The old farebox did accept these trinkets, but not as payment.”

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) donates unclaimed cell phones to a program that provides them to abused women. Laura Simonson, a victim advocate with the Salt Lake City Police Department, said the police department receives donated phones from various sources, programming them solely to connect to “911.”  The phones can be a lifeline for emergency help–particularly if the abuser has cut the land line connection.

Lawnmowers and dentures have been found by UTA in addition to construction materials, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs.

Eyeglasses, particularly sunglasses, are not surprisingly among the most common items left on board Oahu Transit Services vehicles in Honolulu.  All unclaimed glasses--and cell phones--are donated to the Rocklin Lions Club in Rocklin, CA, which sells them to a licensed recycler. The Lions Club uses the funds to buy pre-paid Military Global calling cards that allow U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan to call home, and eyeglasses are donated to Third World countries.

And here’s a story you don’t hear every day.  Mary Fetsch at the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland told how an elderly woman was reunited with her departed husband’s remains.  Fetsch said that a black bag found on MAX light rail contained the identified remains of a gentleman.  “It had enough ID that TriMet was able to track down the daughter and speak with her,” she said. The grateful daughter said her mother carried her husband’s remains with her at all times, but frequently became forgetful and would leave them behind.

Medical-related items have turned up in public transit vehicles in both San Diego and Philadelphia. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System has also found a vehicle transmission, piñatas, and $7,000 in negotiable bonds in addition to wheelchairs and crutches. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority listed a blood pressure cuff, insulin kits, and a glass eye.

Most of the time, the items are what one would expect.  SEPTA’s Sylvana Hoyos listed the most common items as “cell phones, wallets, handbags, laptops, rollerblades, skateboards, canes, trial attorneys’ briefcases, airplane tickets, jewelry including wedding bands, and medications.”  But there are always exceptions.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority in Nashville reported finding abandoned musical instruments, along with various mobility aids and a prosthetic leg. “We also receive Bibles on a regular basis,” said MTA’s Patricia Harris-Morehead, and employees of Broward County Transit in Pompano Beach, FL, reported finding among other items, a fishing pole, a golf club, and--a turkey.

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