A look at what transit riders leave behind

LYNNWOOD — It might not come as a surprise that cell phones, collapsible umbrellas and sunglasses are among the items most commonly left on buses.

Some of the other items, however, are things you wouldn’t expect someone to forget.

False teeth. Hearing aids. Metal detectors. Crutches. Canes. Laptop computers. A “Will work for food” sign. Bicycles. Baby strollers and cat carriers, without the babies and cats.

“We get adult magazines in backpacks, and accessories,” said Rob Jensen, sales and distribution manager for Community Transit.

About 650 items per week and up to 8,000 a year come through Community Transit’s lost and found, Jensen said.

The claim rate is about 35 percent, he said.

“Umbrellas don’t get claimed, cell phones do.”

The “Will work for food” sign was claimed.

Whatever the item may be, when it’s left on a Community Transit bus or a Sound Transit express bus operated by CT, it goes to a small storage room in the Community Transit Ridestore at the Lynnwood park-and-ride lot.

Items left on Sounder commuter trains are stored by Sound Transit, spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said. Items left on Sound Transit buses in King County, and on Link light rail, are stored by King County Metro, while those left on Sound Transit buses in Pierce County are stored by Pierce Transit.

Drivers walk through their buses after each one-way trip and gather items riders have left behind. They’re taken to the dispatch center and then to the ridestore usually the next day, Jensen said.

The seven staff members at the ridestore spend about three hours a day between them sorting and tagging the items. Their other duties include selling bus passes, including Orca bus cards; tickets for Dial-A-Ride (DART) paratransit, and maintaining bus stops.

The lost-and-found items are placed in baskets, bins, boxes and drawers, organized by type and the week in which they were found. They are stored in a small room about 12 feet long by 6 feet wide. Wallets containing any amount of cash are locked away.

Items are held for 30 days, except bicycles, which are moved through more quickly because of limited storage space. Unclaimed items, depending on their value, are either destroyed or taken to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. There, they are kept for another 60 days before being destroyed, said Kevin Prentiss, chief of the support services bureau for the Sheriff’s Office.

Community Transit is working on a plan to donate some of the items to charity, Jensen said.

Sometimes riders will call as soon as they know they’ve left something on the bus but before the item has made its way back to the ridestore. In most cases they have to wait until the next day.

If medication is lost, or the wallet or passport of a person who needs to get on a plane, then the ridestore staff will try to get it to them as quickly as possible.

If an item goes unclaimed for a while and contains information that can lead to its return, the staff pursues the leads — calling numbers in cell phones, calling banks and credit card companies about lost cards, returning library books to the library and textbooks to schools.

Some people, including federal employees, have left laptops on the bus that contain important information, said Sandie Shalan, who works at the ridestore.

“We get them back to them and they send us flowers,” she said. “We’ve saved a few jobs.”

Many people leave wallets on the bus, some that contain hundreds of dollars, employees said. People are overjoyed to get their wallets back, even if they contain only small amounts of money. One woman “absolutely burst into tears,” Jensen said.

Sometimes items are found by other riders before the driver gets to them. Some of these items are turned in, some are not. One woman lost a breast pump that was never turned in, staff members said.

On the brighter side, a man called to say he had left a new toy car for his son at a bus stop. A short time later, another rider walked into the ridestore with the toy car and turned it in.

Staff members recommend that riders check their seats and the floor nearby before getting off the bus, and if they do realize something is lost, to call as soon as possible.

Detailed descriptions of the item and when and where it was lost also help, Jensen said. There are a lot of black collapsible umbrellas in the lost-and-found room.

“It makes us feel good to be able to return the item,” employee Kurt Krueger said. “There’s nothing I like to say better than ‘Yes.’”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Looking for lost items?

Anyone who believes they have left an item on a Community Transit bus, at a bus stop or park-and-ride lot in Snohomish County — or wants to turn in an item — may call 425-348-2350; email ridestore@commtrans.org or visit Community Transit’s ridestore at the Lynnwood park-and-ride lot, 20100 48th Ave. W.

The store is open from 7 a.m to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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