Home MTA Absurdity Lost and not found with New York City Transit

Lost and not found with New York City Transit

by Benjamin Kabak

When it rains bad news, it pours for the MTA. Hot the heels of this whole fare hike mess comes the MTA’s Office of the Inspector General, an independent state-run, investigative and audit unit tasked with keeping an eye on the MTA. All things considered, they do a fairly terrible job. Just ask the City Comptroller.

But, to be fair, when the MTAIG issues a report, it’s usually not good news for New York City Transit, and yesterday’s release of a report on the sorry state of the NYCT lost and found is no exception. The reports, available here, paint the picture of a service that is lost and found in name only. It’s more likely to be a lost and never found again.

The highlights:

  • The recovery rate for lost items on NYCT-controlled property is a whopping 18 percent. The MTAIG calls this a “needlessly low” recovery rate spurred on by operational problems and no real agency committement.
  • In a field audit, the workers at MTAIG handed 26 items over to NYCT employees. Twenty three of those items were never logged into the system and could not be located in the end. Just three — or 11 percent — were logged.

So here we have two problems: The MTA doesn’t have a very good process for getting lost items to a central processing center, and once there, the methods for identifying lost items are fatally flawed. Basically, the first problem is what you would expect. “We found that on some occasions, valuable jewelry such as a diamond earring or a wallet containing hundreds of dollars had been turned in as lost property, but never transported to the [Lost Property Unit] to be claimed by the owner,” the Inspector General’s report said.

Well, of course. If anyone finds something in the subway of any monetary value, “finders keepers” seems to be the name of that game. But the fact that subway supervisors don’t even know the proper intake procedures is troublesome to say the least. My advice to you, dear straphanger: Don’t lose anything of value on the subway. You’re not getting it back.

The second report — the one detailing operations at the MTA’s Lost Property Unit — is even better. Personal Identification (driver licenses, passports, etc.) are left unsecured in a massive pile of lost property, and the “unnecessarily long retention policy” leads to some pathetically amusing descriptions.

“At one point, it took an LPU employee almost four hours to locate a sample of 10 items selected by the auditors from the inventory. In order to retrieve items, staff often climbed shelves, moved large parcels and generally exerted notable efforts to search through piles of lost items. The items were ultimately found but it is not practicable to spend so much time on every request,” reads the report. I can’t make that up.

Obviously, the Inspector General recommended a better approach to lost property. He has advised New York City Transit to adopt a better processing system and a more defined retention and storage policy. For their part, NYCT is listening. “New York City Transit has either implemented or is in the process of implementing the majority of the recommendations made by the Inspector General in his report. Those recommendations which we have not implemented are under review. We appreciate the constructive criticism of the Inspector General and his staff,” the TA’s statement said.

While it’s easy to joke about the MTA’s seemingly inept LPU, the reality is that this is exactly the kind of press the MTA doesn’t need right now. With Lee Sander and a much more qualified crew heading up the MTA and its various divisions than we’ve had in a long time, the MTA will become a more streamlined transportation authority. Right now, though, the bureaucracy can still be pretty thick, and this IG report certainly brings one highly flawed process to light.

You may also like


Todd December 14, 2007 - 8:26 am

I found a ladies wallet a few months ago on an R platform and practically had to force it on the booth worker (who’s grasp of the English language was minimal at best). I should’ve looked inside for some ID and then mailed it back to the person. I’m sure it never got back to her.

Gary December 14, 2007 - 12:38 pm

Ben, this statement:

“We found that on some occasions, valuable jewelry such as a diamond earring or a wallet containing hundreds of dollars had been turned in as lost property, but never transported to the [Lost Property Unit] to be claimed by the owner,”

seems to indicate not finders keepers, but finder turns property over to MTA employee, who converts property for own use instead of delivering to Lost and Found.

I had a very good experience with the PATH 3 years ago; left my camera on a train, met my then-fiancee for dinner, realized i left the camera, panicked, called 311, transferred me to PATH, radioed the train, they had the camera, and were rolling back through the line . . . I ran back to the station, caught the train in there and got my camera back from the conductor.

Of course the MTA is an order of magnitude more complex, but they can and should have a working system for getting people back their property.

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » Fares, fares, everywhere fares December 14, 2007 - 3:59 pm

[…] again, no matter how inept the MTA can be sometimes, all things considered, we have a pretty sweet subway in New York, fare […]

Philip Nunez March 5, 2009 - 9:44 pm

The new online Lost and Found form only seems to cater for US citizens. The Address Box should include foreign countries as well. This will help tourists to use the online lost and found service.

Mike May 4, 2009 - 5:40 pm

It’s all about responsibility. The proper procedure is the clerk has to log it in…they don’t want the extra responsibility as they (for the most part…not the red information booths) are already legally responsible for the money. A supervisor (usually too lazy to do it themselves so they’ll expect a lunch relief/cta to do it for them…some l/r’s that is part of their job but they simply take the property to another “control” booth where a supv. has to process it anyway) is supposed to pick it up. Now that employee has the unwanted responsibility thrust upon them. Finally a supv. sends the items to the LPU. No ID…it’s gone. Wallet/id…if the employee has a conscience it usually gets tossed in a mailbox.

Nick June 17, 2009 - 10:34 am

I went to the MTA lost and found at the bus depot 20 min after realizing I lost my cell phone on an express bus. I told my story to the station manager and his only help was to see if I could find the bus driver at the bus garage or call back in 2 hours to see if it shows up. Another bus driver over-heard my story and showed me a zip block bag with cell phones, said that “I wont ever have that problem”. After asking him what would a bus driver need 5 cell phones for, he thought I was acusing him of something…but seriously, the lost and found section is a shady department. And with the disrespectful NYC bus-drivers the MTA hires, you should be so lucky to find a good driver willing to submit your lost property to the rightfull athorities in their department.

Losing, but not always finding, something in the subway :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog November 30, 2009 - 1:18 am

[…] seems to be nothing more than just a story. Two years ago, an MTA Inspector General’s report condemned the lost and found operations. At the time, just 18 percent of lost items were recovered, and 23 of 26 intentionally lost items […]

carlene March 1, 2015 - 7:36 pm

My wallet dropped out of my pocket on the Bx30 bus yesterday around 11:40a.m. it had my NY state ID. Can anyone tell me where I can locate the MTA bus depot where the bx30 buses are, so I can go by there or a contact number where I can call there to find out if they have my I.D. holder with my NYS I.D. in it. I had other I.D.s in it too.


Leave a Comment