(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
Lost Property & Technology
The most common form of lost property is the mobile phone. When mobile phones didn’t exist, instances of passengers leaving items in the cab were relatively rare. The situation is different now. Almost everyone carries a phone, and they’re not easy to spot at night on the back seat of a poorly-lit taxi.
It’s important we remain vigilant to lost property as it can save a lot of hassle. The Lost Property Office is only open 8.30 to 4pm Monday to Friday, and even if you’re clever enough to know where your nearest working police station is, you’ll probably find it closed, or converted into a block of flats.
I have a good record of re-uniting folk with their phones, and two unusual examples come to mind. On my way home one night I looked around and saw a small black rectangle on the back seat. On closer inspection I identified the item as a mobile phone. The following morning I managed to work out how to answer it when the inevitable call came, and I promised to drop the man’s phone off in Grays Inn Road when I next found myself in the area.
Five years’ ago I wasn’t familiar with the concept of smart phones, Blackberries, what have you. I was therefore a bit taken back by the man’s obvious relief when I handed over his phone. I realised these mobile telephone receivers were worth a bit of money when he tried to offer me a ridiculously large cash reward. I said he would have got his phone back eventually through Lost Property, but he said that would have taken too long (I suspect he was a regular visitor to 200 Baker Street). There followed a surreal exchange where he was offering me large amounts of money and I was haggling him down. We settled on £25, which I felt was more than enough compensation for my time and effort.
Three years’ ago I repatriated two items of lost property in one afternoon. A Tory peer left his wallet in the cab after a visit to the House of Lords. After a bit of effort I tracked his office down, and earned a modest fee for my troubles.
All day I’d been hearing a ringing coming from somewhere inside the cab. Amazingly, when I looked under the driver’s seat I discovered a phone. I’d recently come back from holiday and quickly assumed that the phone was left there by someone who moved my cab at the car park at Gatwick. Not so. I eventually managed to answer the phone and discovered it was left in my cab by a car washer a few days’ previously. I declined a cup of tea as compensation and saved myself a trip to Gatwick.
Our customers’ lax attitude to security sometimes astounds me. They’ll get you stop at a cashpoint and leave the door open with phones and bags proudly displayed on the back seat. Certain Middle Eastern gentlemen enjoy the showmanship of peeling off a fifty pound note from a huge roll as they pay you off at Harrods. Women never show off their money like that, they wear it. In my experience, it’s only men who leave mobile phones in taxis. Women only lose them in their bags, so they’re not really lost at all.
As card payment increases, it presents new concerns. Security flaws have been identified in some chip and PIN terminals, which has allowed thieves to download customer’s’ personal card details. I don’t know how common this is, or how it’s easily done; but I understand thousands of terminals, commonly found in shops and restaurants, have had to re-programmed to avoid problems. Card terminals obtained from a reputable source should be fine, but it’s an issue worth watching.
There’s always the nagging fear that there will be a problem with your credit card reader, or with your customer’s credit card. Your eyes might light up with pound signs when someone gets in and asked you to take them to Twattinghamshire on a credit card, but what do you do if their card is declined at the end of the journey and they have no cash?
And what do you do if someone tries to rip you off on purpose? Current guidance warns against locking your doors and delivering your criminal to a police station, as the crim can counter-charge you with holding them prisoner, kidnap, extortion, or something. Maybe phoning the police directly, or going through a radio circuit you might subscribe to, might be a better idea. The police are known to sometimes claim that a refusal to pay is a civil matter, but if a person enters the vehicle without money in his possession, and fails to inform the driver until the journey is complete, they commit an offence under Section 11 Fraud Act 2006 – Obtaining Services Dishonestly. If shops can prosecute, I’m sure we can too. Stay firm and insist something is done. Going by instances reported in Taxi, once the Polizia are involved, the miscreant often finds he had some cash in his pocket after all.
Time will tell what problems an increase in technology will throw up, but we need to be ready to deal with any issues. The card reader might be worth something if data can be downloaded by criminals, but there’s nothing much we can do about devices fixed to the cab. As for lost property, all we can do is try not to let it happen. We drivers need to take care of our own possessions too. We certainly shouldn’t leave things on display. Make sure phones, bags, and that nice leather jacket you bought in Majorca, are with you when you go for a coffee.