Here's How Much TfL Made From Your Lost Property Last Year

By Holly Brockwell on at

People lose a lot of stuff on London public transport. Between April '15 and March '16, for instance, they lost 32,929 mobile phones, 11,509 umbrellas, 43,277 items of clothing and 43,068 bags – not to mention all the weird and wonderfuls like musical instruments, play props and small children. Wait, not that last one. Hopefully.

Every year, Transport for London (TfL) releases some truly fascinating data about things lost on the underground, on buses, in black cabs and on trains. It's counted from the beginning of April to the end of March, so they've just finished recording the numbers for 16-17 – but we won't get those 'til July. So let's take a look at the figures from the last three years, and see just how much of our stuff we've been willingly handing over to the lost property wizards.

Inside the lost property room

It's hard to imagine the scale of the figures unless you see the treasure trove where they live, at TfL's lost property headquarters in Baker Street.

Redditor Londonnewbie visited recently, and took some incredible photos – can you spot any of your stuff?

Lost Property Office - Transport for London

Lost items are catalogued incredibly carefully:

"Each day hundreds of items end up here, and are methodically entered into their system “Sherlock” - the intricate details of this process is what astounded me the most.

For example - I saw a pair of gloves that had been left on the underground being entered into the system. The information entered about the pair were the colour, the style (mittens, gloves, fingerless gloves etc), material (cotton, wool, leather etc.), brand names & the hand they came from (left, right or set) - all these details meticulously inputted into a database for a simple set of gloves so hopefully the owner will claim them.

The staff really do care about trying to get the property back to people. They work really hard at trying to track down the owners of items, especially for expensive items. For example if a DSLR is found, they will go through the photos and try and find any information that may assist in tracking down the owner such as hotels they may of been at, concerts they have been to etc."

Despite their best efforts, though, most lost property never finds its way back to its owner. Overall, just 21% of the stuff lost in 15-16 was reclaimed.

What happens to all that stuff?

To quote TfL:

"Unclaimed items become the property of TfL after three months and are either donated to charity, recycled, sold at auction or disposed [of] responsibly."

Wait, wait. Sold at auction? So you can buy stuff people have left on the tube?

Indeed you can. We asked where the items are sold or sent, and TfL told us:

"The two auction houses we currently use are Greasbys Auctioneers and XS Items. Most items are donated to charities including The Salvation Army, Red Cross and Scope."

Greasbys is an old-school, proper auction house in Tooting. Its next auction is on the 25th of April, and it recently sold the entire contents of a Harlow gym, even down to "1 Hettie vacuum cleaner."

XS Items, meanwhile, sells on Amazon and eBay. Which means that killer laptop deal you got in an auction recently might have been something someone left on a bus.

However, XS Items sells loads of stuff (loads) so it's impossible to know which bits came from TfL and which didn't. Which, I'm guessing, is the point. Currently up for grabs on their webshops are an Alcatel Onetouch tablet (guessing that one came from a tourist: who here buys Alcatel?!), a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (you totally left that on the tube on purpose), and a job lot of broken Microsoft Surface 3 screens, possibly from an Apple fan with an anger problem.

How much is it all worth?

TfL downplays it (understandably, when everyone's grouchy about ticket prices) but all that lost stuff brings in a lot of cash over the year. Even after all the charity donations and time spent cataloguing things to try and get them back to their owners, if enough people leave their DSLR on your train, you're going to be pretty well off.

Here are the figures for the last three years:

Yep, more than seven hundred grand last year alone, and it went up by almost £100k between 14/15 and 15/16. If that pattern continues, they'll be netting over a million before 2020.

If you're wondering what the admin fees are, by the way, TfL says they "take into account the effort, resources and risk associated with the collection, cataloguing, safekeeping and restoration of property. The average fee for items reclaimed from the Lost Property Office for the periods shown is £5.35."

Considering all the effort they put in, and how much some of those lost items are worth, we'd say that's a bargain.

Who gets the money?

Somewhat sadly, the Lost Property wizards who spend their days carefully cataloguing the stuff you carelessly left on the Jubilee line while half-asleep or drunk, aren't sitting on gold thrones made of lost laptops.

The income from sales "contributes towards the operating costs of the Lost Property Office," which suggests it actually costs more than £700k a year to keep it running. Not really surprising when you look at the volumes of stuff going in – an average of 90 "telephones" a day alone, and almost £250,000 in cash. Crikey.

I've lost something and I want it back, dammit

If it's within three months, here's who you need to contact. If it's money, you've got a year – but you'll need to know exactly how much, where, when, and what it was in. No ringing up trying to claim "a fiver you lost somewhere in zone 2."

Have a look at the full lost property data, it's fascinating. We'll be back in July with the figures for 16-17, so we can see how many of us left our priceless possessions on a gum-stained tube seat this year.

Main image: Ian Wright via Flickr CC

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