Tag Archives: lost property in taxis

Lost Property & Missing Policemen

(Original edit, and original title, of article written for Taxi magazine).

I hadn’t found any lost property in the cab for a long time. I was keen to get home to start a three-day weekend when my vigilance deserted me and I let a man leave his phone in my cab.

These things always seem to happen at the end of the day before a day off.  I have an excellent record for re-uniting folk with their mobile phones though. What usually happens is they call the lost phone, I answer it; then arrange to deliver it make to the owner. No call came this time, so I took the official lost property route. It was frustrating though because I remember where I picked my man up and where I dropped him; I just didn’t know the door number.

It was 6.30pm, so the TfL Lost Property Office at Baker Street was closed. Not to worry, I knew West End Central Police Station would be open so I headed to Mayfair. The problem with police stations is that there’s no parking. They hardly encourage you to report a crime, do they?  I parked on the rank in New Burlington Street and made the sixty second walk to Savile Row. I wasn’t there long. Just long enough to read the notice saying they were closed.

It was Thursday and I was in Going Home mode on ComCab. I wouldn’t be back in London until Monday. Bearing in mind the twenty-four hour rule I thought where else could I hand in the phone? I then remembered a bilking incident from 2016. A PC at West Hampstead helped me recover some money after a penniless student fled from his own house leaving an unpaid £41 taxi fare. His parents weren’t in to lend him the cab fare from Shaftesbury Avenue to Hampstead and he panicked and fled the scene.  Anyway, I remember the police officer saying that he worked nights, so I was confident West Hampstead Police Station would be open, and it was on my route home.

The last time I handed something in at a police station was about twenty-five years’ ago. As a young butter boy I foolishly accepted a £50 note that two youths gave me as payment for a fare. When I went to pay for my meal at the Royal Oak caff we could all see the note was a fake.

Later that evening I heard a radio report about a gang of counterfeiters who had been apprehended. I figured my moody £50 note was probably one of their creations. When I handed it in at Tottenham Court Road, I half expected a reward;, but all they did was put my fifty into a plastic bag and send me on my way. Don’t forget I’d also given the two scroats about £40 change.

Tottenham Court Road Police Station is long gone, but I was pleased to find that West Hampstead was open. Great. I had my apology prepared as the male and female greeted me behind the glass: “It’s a boring one… Lost property.” The lady was even more apologetic than I was when she told me they no longer accept lost property. She also pointed out how lucky I was to find them open. She could clearly hardly believe it herself as she exclaimed that they only open three HOURS per week!

She had the air of a provincial librarian. In fact the whole place felt like a small town library. It wasn’t like the police stations I’d come to expect from watching TV. There was no harassed bloke in white shirtsleeves trying to tap stuff into a computer while folk drunkenly fell all over the counter mumbling nonsense. There were no streetwalkers sat sullenly on a bench awaiting processing, or hoping to be let off with a warning and a lecture on keeping yourself safe. It was just two middle aged people manning the station; and, I noted, a pet dog lying under a desk.

I know little about mobile phones, so I asked their help in trying to open the device to identify the owner. The man couldn’t open the phone either. They said I could go to Kentish Town Police Station as an alternative. I explained I was heading towards the M1 and home. He said I’d done my bit by trying two stations, so I agreed I’d have my three days’ off and take it to Baker Street on Monday.

We try our best to do the right thing and re-unite people with their lost property, but cuts to the Police Service have resulted in the situation where we’re put in a difficult position: TfL Lost Property Office works office hours; most police stations closed; and there’s nowhere to park if you are lucky to find one open.

They say the police are never around when you want them. Several days later I passed a rank of police vans parked up on Bridge Street prior to the anti-Brexit demo. There was a policeman in a yellow vest stopping people drive into Parliament Square. I wondered what station all these coppers came from, and whether if I tapped on the door of the van they’d take down some particulars and put any lost property into a plastic bag for me?

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Lost Property & Technology

(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.

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