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SEPTA lost & found: How to get your stuff back (and where it goes)

You’re waiting for the Broad Street Line, texting your friends You lean over the forbidden yellow line and peek down the tunnel: “Where the hell is this train?” Suddenly your phone is several feet below you on the tracks. It’s not damaged, thanks to that awesome new case you just bought for 89 cents on Amazon, but you can’t reach it. There’s still no sign of the train, so…

Pop quiz, hotshot: Do you jump down onto the subway tracks? What if it’s your keys — go get copies? Never fear — we checked with SEPTA. Here’s what to do…

If you drop something on the tracks

In the event you drop something onto the tracks, immediately go and contact the cashier present at the station. He or she will then be able to contact a SEPTA employee who has been certified to access the tracks. The certification comes through a track safety course implemented by SEPTA.

If an item falls in the track area, there is a bit of a process to retrieve it. On Regional Rail, for example, Ralph Mazzuca, Assistant Director of Railroad Service (Center City), told Billy Penn, “We wait until the evening when train service is not as frequent. From there, we can suspend a track service and run trains on a single track until the item is retrieved.” Makes sense, especially considering the high frequency of trains running during peak hours of service, particularly at major stations such as 30th Street or Jefferson, where things seem to get lost the most.

SEPTA also has a Lost & Found program for all of its mass transit services. There are places to go, numbers you can call or people to talk to depending on where you lose something.

If you left something behind

On Regional Rail

The Passenger Services Office at the Suburban Station concourse is located beneath the intersection of 16th Street and JFK Boulevard. The concourse is accessible via the Broad Street Line, Market-Frankford Line, and city trolley routes (except route 15), and several buses that run in Center City.

Don’t feel completely bad if you leave something behind; you’re not the first person to do it, and certainly won’t be the last.

“We get about 700 items turned into us each month,” Mazzuca told us.

Having the item turned in is the first step. The conductor is usually the person who finds the item and holds onto it before bringing it down to Passenger Services at Suburban. The item is placed with a tag, which describes the item, names the person who turns it in, puts a control number on it to keep it organized, and then puts it in a closet, or locks it up in a safe if the item is deemed more valuable. As long as you realize you left something on SEPTA, there’s a decent chance you’ll get it back.

“From my experience, I would say the return rate for ‘higher-priced items’ are about 70-80 percent,” Mazzuca said. Higher-priced items include phones, laptops, and other electronics, as well as SEPTA passes and employee IDs. On the other hand, lower-price items (umbrellas, gloves, hats, etc.) are a coin flip as to whether people recover those items or not.

But it’s not all laptops and umbrellas. “Our employees once found a wedding dress,” Mazzuca said. “They have also recovered false teeth, engagement rings, and even fake eyes.” Other weird items include plants and crutches. If you’re asking yourself how and why these items were on trains in the first place… we really don’t have an answer for that.

The Passenger Services Office is open for people to recover their lost items between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m Monday through Friday. You can also call 215-580-5740. Conductors and other SEPTA personnel are able to return lost items to Passenger Services 24/7.

Bus and Trolley Routes*:

The process of returning items is similar to that of Regional Rail. Thomas Marcucci, senior director of surface transportation, elaborated some of the process.

“Operators are required to check the vehicle after completing their route. If lost items are found, they are brought back to the district depots.” There are nine bus/light rail districts where items could be found. Marcucci explained, “items are given tags to identify what the items are and who returned the item.”

Common lost items include hats, gloves, and umbrellas on the lower end; and wallets, IDs, and electronic products on the higher end. But Marcucci told Billy Penn he’s seen some uncommon items being turned in like bikes and wheelchairs. A student once left a violin behind, and someone lost their Social Security checks.

“You wonder how some people can leave these things on buses,” Marcucci said. Exactly the thought we had when he heard someone lost their wheelchair.

But just because you lose an item on a bus in South Philly, doesn’t mean the item will automatically appear at the Southern District on 20th and Johnson streets. Keep in mind several bus routes run through both South Philly and North Philly, so a bus may belong to the Southern District depot, but a passenger just so happens to ride the bus only on its northern part of the route. Try to remember the bus ID number, or at least where and what time you boarded the bus.

If you leave something on a bus or trolley, it’s best to call SEPTA’s Customer Service line at 215-580-7800. There are English and Spanish-speaking agents available. A customer service agent will provide you the location and telephone number to assist in retrieving any lost items. Have that bus ID number handy when you call.

*The 101 and 102 trolley routes are not included in the trolley routes mentioned above

Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, Norristown High Speed Line, Trolley Routes 101 & 102:

Marcucci told us the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines have a similar, but maybe not exact, processes of tracking lost items on its trains, and submitting them to their respective customer service offices.

The 69th Street Terminal Customer Service Office is the place to go for the Market-Frankford Line, Norristown High Speed Line, and trolley routes 101 & 102. The Customer Service Office is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also call 215-580-3800.

As for the Broad Street Line, the Fern Rock District Office is located at 5801 N. 11th Street. The District Office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

How long will SEPTA keep my stuff?

Upon receiving lost items, both Mazzuca and Marcucci told us, SEPTA’s first step is to look for identification.

Specifically, Mazzuca told us, “we’ll open bags or briefcases and look through it to see if we can find anything to help us identify a person… whether it be a state ID, work ID, bank card.” If some form of identification is found, they can contact the necessary person (or people) to help reconnect people with their lost items.

Most lost items like wallets or IDs are kept at these locations for approximately 30 days. However, more valuable items like wedding rings and iPads are kept for up to 90 days. But if you leave a bag of groceries on the bus, then you just have to go back to the store and buy some more because perishable items get disposed of immediately.

Finders, keepers

If the lost items have not been claimed, then whoever originally turned the item in gets to choose whether or not he or she wants to keep the item. If the person who returned the item declines to keep it, then it’s donated to a local organization. Mazzuca told Billy Penn unclaimed Regional Rail items have several destinations.

“Glasses go to Will’s Eye Hospital, phones go to Verizon as a part of the “HopeLine Program,” and other items go to the Salvation Army,” he said. Unclaimed items from bus and trolley routes go elsewhere, Marcucci told us.”Bikes are donated to local schools where they are auctioned off, and canned goods go to local food shelters.”

There are some cases where SEPTA takes the extra mile in returning items to passengers. In the case of Regional Rail, Mazzuca told Billy Penn employees have found IDs and returned them personally to the address found on the item. “It’s not just that we give items back to people, it’s how we give them back. We coach our employees to be personable. We expect our employees to use every resource possible.”

Marcucci echoed Mazzuca’s sentiments when describing bus and trolley operators. “We have a lot of conscientious operators go above and beyond to give people their items back. We’ve had a number of operators contact customers they are familiar with, and are able to keep the items and give it back the next day.”

So if you leave something on a bus or train, don’t panic too much. SEPTA employees do everything they can to return lost items to original customers. And if you think you can scam SEPTA’S employees, guess again. Mazzuca told us, “we exercise caution in handing back any item. If you lost your phone, you’ll have to describe it, name a contact in the phone and tell us his number, tell us the train you lost it on, and tell us the picture of the screen-saver.”

However, if you do lose something and it doesn’t turn up at the any of the above locations, then it was somebody else’s lucky day.

Customers appreciate SEPTA’S effort

Mazzuca beamed as he read letters sent by various passengers who had lost items, but were able to recover them thanks to the effort put forth by SEPTA’S employees. Specifically, a guy from Hawaii lost his wallet in the snow. Somehow, though, SEPTA was able to obtain it, and they  eventually returned it to him. That is an example of what passenger service employees do for a living. There’s no satisfaction like returning a lost valuable item to its original owner.

Although Mazzuca is the Deputy Director, he reflects all of the credit to his employees.

“I don’t take any credit for the work done here. Our frontline is fabulous. They do an excellent job, and they do an excellent job every day.”

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