“If you have one shoe, you’re more likely to go looking for the other…”

Gavin Haynes reported for The Guardian of 28 Aug 2017:

“In Baker Street in London sits Transport for London’s lost property depot, a vast filtering system collecting the items left behind as people flow through the city’s transport system each day.

The biggest lost property office in Europe, it is beaten globally only by Tokyo’s depot. Sixty-five staff sort through hundreds of thousands of lost and forgotten items each at the depot, which is run by Paul Cowan.

According to the latest transparency data published this week, and for the first time in such granular detail, Cowan’s team sorted through 332,077 items in the year to March.

This included:

1,200 new items arriving daily
13,000 keys
34,322 mobile phones
46,318 bags
10,000 umbrellas
“If we wanted to charge an accurate price for what it costs us to return each item, it’d be £100,” says Cowan, illustrating the cost of loss.

The data reveals a startling array of items passing through the transport system, handed in from hundreds of stations, not to mention myriad bus depots and umpteen cabs.

And, as the data reveals, very few are claimed. For example, of the nearly 13,000 keys handed in to lost property last year, just under 1,400 – a “tiny fraction” – were returned to their owners, says Cowan. Overall, 20% of stock is claimed within three months; after that time, stock passes into TfL’s possession – and it’s not necessarily the items you’d expect.

A wander through the three basement floors that make up the lost property office gives a revealing insight into what we value enough to recover – and what we’re content to let go.

“As a society, we haven’t become risk-averse so much as risk-aware,” Cowan explains. “Most people don’t bother to even look when they lose their keys. They assume they’ve been compromised and change the locks instead.”

Cowan has developed an interesting insight into the human psyche, particularly into the complexity of lost shoes. “If you have one shoe, you’re more likely to go looking for the other. If you lose two shoes, well, it’s slightly ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” he says…

Data must be destroyed “because as property owners, we have to take the Data Protection Act seriously”, says Cowan. Papers are shredded. USB sticks compacted. Some items – power tools, musical instruments – are sold at auction, defraying the cost of the depot itself.

But much of it goes to charity…”

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