To the person who left a blue Champion roller bag and a companion duffel bag featuring a Schwan’s USA Cup logo on a Hiawatha light-rail train earlier this month, Metro Transit has your luggage.
To the passenger who left a Nook on the Route 810 bus, the transit agency is holding onto that, too.
Shelves in the agency’s customer relations office at its Minneapolis headquarters at 560 6th Av. N. are brimming with items that riders have left on buses and trains. Most are of the mundane variety — hats, gloves, umbrellas and lunch pails — but past gems have included large-screen TVs, microwave ovens, wheelchair scooters, leaf blowers and paintings. The biggest surprise was a large plastic kiddie swimming pool. Or maybe the Red Bull bar table left on a light-rail platform. The most bizarre: a raccoon tail. The most valuable: a $2,000 bicycle.
“It’s a true treat every morning when I walk in,” Pam Steffen joked as she looked at the bins of cellphones, wallets, books and prescriptions. But seriously, she says, “We want them to have their stuff back.”
Bus drivers and train operators put a tag on each item that they find or is turned into them. The tag includes the date and the route on which the item was found. Then items are shipped to Steffen, who along with a staff of four catalogs them and tries to find the owners.
It’s a daunting task, considering that nearly 20,000 items made it to the agency’s lost and found last year. More than 21,900 arrived in 2011, an average of 50 to 60 lost articles a day. On top of that, passengers left 1,203 bicycles on buses and trains last year.
Metro Transit holds most items for two weeks (one week for bicycles due to space limitations).
Most unclaimed items are donated to charity. Others, such as cellphones, are taken to recycling centers. Items such as a “gorgeous cheese platter” left on a bus during the holidays are sent to the trash. Steffen’s favorite, a medium-size rock, found a home in Metro Transit’s garden.
But staff members try to be proactive about finding the rightful owners. They look for a person’s name or business card, IDs or any markings that might help identify an owner. The agency will call or send them a postcard, spokesman John Siqveland said.
Last year, one bus rider left behind his $2,000 racing bike, which was brought to the lost and found. A staff member saw a sticker from a local bike shop and called the store with the serial number. The bike shop looked up the owner. The two were reunited.
“We make every effort to reunite an item with owner,” Steffen said.
Despite the efforts, only 22 percent of lost items and 52 percent of bikes left behind are claimed. Siqveland attributes that to the fact that many riders are not aware the agency has a lost and found.
To improve those dismal numbers, Metro Transit has a campaign called “Don’t Forget Your Bike,” with stickers on bike racks, alerts on social media and notices in newsletters and on its website.
Still, the best part of the day is reuniting property and owners, said Michael Jones, a lost-and-found customer relations specialist.
“People say ‘My whole life is in that bag,’ ” Jones said.