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Lost in transit: What ride-hailing passengers are leaving behind

Audemars Piguet watch
Among the items at Grab's Lost and Found centre are an Audemars Piguet watch, which retails for over $30,000. PHOTO: TED CHEN
exercise band
A red exercise band. PHOTOS: TED CHEN
cosmetics
Items from a cosmetics kit. PHOTO: TED CHEN
bird's nest
A box of Kinohimitsu Bird's Nest, found during the Chinese New Year season. PHOTO: TED CHEN
cny cookies
A container of fish crackers from Glory Catering. PHOTO: TED CHEN
phone
An average of 10 mobile phones are sent in daily to Grab's Lost & Found centre. PHOTO: TED CHEN
garment steamer
A brand-new Philips EasyTouch Plus garment steamer. PHOTO: TED CHEN
escooter
The centre receives between two to three electric scooters a month. PHOTO: TED CHEN
passport
A passport from the People's Republic of China. PHOTO: TED CHEN
shoes
A pair of New Balance shoes for toddlers. PHOTO: TED CHEN
A bottle of champagne, left behind in a duty-free bag. PHOTO: TED CHEN
A bottle of champagne, left behind in a duty-free bag. PHOTO: TED CHEN

The "Better Journeys" series explores how our daily commutes can be made better, with a focus on ride-hailing. This sixth and final instalment takes readers behind-the-scenes to Grab's Lost and Found centre.

In a small room labelled ‘Lost & Found’ in Midview City, three employees from Grab’s partner experience team are busy organising the paperwork that accompanies the 700 to 800 items left behind in the ride-hailing operator’s cars every month.

At 2.15pm, a well-built man in office attire walks in. The 42-year-old salesman has come to pick up his misplaced house keys. In less than 10 minutes, he is reunited with them.

Grab deals with many lost-and-found cases every day, and some are quite peculiar.

The day before our visit, a driver brought in a lonesome banana, after his passenger insisted the item be returned.

“We tag every item that comes in, no matter how big or small,” says Rachel Tay, one of Grab’s partner experience team leads. Her team of 10 takes turns running the lost-and-found service, which involves engaging with Grab driver-partners, passengers, the Singapore Police Force and various organisations.

Items are catalogued by date received. Valuables or personal items not claimed within 30 days are taken to a police station. Non-valuables are donated to charity. Perishables – like the banana, which ended up being unclaimed – are discarded.

Only 30 per cent of items find their rightful owners.

A Grab spokesman says: “We understand how distressing it can be when a passenger loses an item. We set up the lost-and-found service to help connect missing items to their rightful owners, and to minimise our driver-partners’ inconvenience. Passengers who have lost items can contact their drivers through the app within four hours of their trip.”

Ms Tay says: “I feel heartache for those who lose stuff. I would be concerned when people don’t come to collect their items. I mean, do you not need these things?”

To reiterate her point, she picks out a few notable items from the current inventory: an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Blue Dial watch, retailing for $30,806 (new) on website Chrono24, and a passport from the People’s Republic of China.

Two plastic trays containing a month’s worth of lost mobile phones perch on the shelf behind.

One wonders if these misplaced items are a sign of a rapidly ageing, forgetful society. 

Or are Singaporeans just a distracted lot?

Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster, writes in The Conversation: “By and large, where our memory fails us, it is because we are tired, not paying attention, or trying to do too much at once.”

There are seasonal trends: During Hari Raya, there was a spike in songkoks found. Christmas saw presents and Christmas trees undelivered. During our visit, we spied hongbao (both empty and with money), Chinese New Year cookies, a box of bird’s nest and a pack of bak kwa.

Effort, fuel, time

Grab driver-partners can choose to leave the items at the Lost and Found centre, or deliver them personally to the passenger’s home. Either way takes extra effort, fuel and time, for which a reward is not guaranteed.

A 31-year-old driver, who wanted to be known as Mr Nave, walked in with a big bag of “very smelly shoes” that had been left in his car boot. He was not sure whom it belonged to.

It was not the first time he was returning shoes. Other items he has found are a mobile phone, bank security token and keys.

“It’s a hassle for me to return (these items). Honestly speaking, I would appreciate some compensation, or at least a ‘thank you’,” he says.

Driver Goh Kok Meng, 60, worries that passengers may not know how to contact him if they lose an item. So far, he has found a wallet, a graduation certificate, and a mobile phone in his car.

“It’s troublesome to return these things – it’s not my problem actually. But this is part of being in the service line.”

 

Grab’s customer experience team handles an average of 10,000 queries daily. Top topics vary from time to time, but consistently include lost and found items, as well as enquiries and clarifications of fares (surges, surcharges, ERP charges).

To reduce the number of lost-and-found incidents, Grab driver-partners and riders are encouraged to survey the seats after a trip, to ensure that nothing is left behind.

Yet a driver’s honesty and kindness should not be taken for granted. “We encourage passengers who arrange to meet with our driver-partners at a mutually agreed time and place to give the driver-partners a token for their effort. This is to compensate for their costs and time,” says a Grab spokesman.

Having lost his handphone before, Mr Goh adds: “If I lose an item and someone returns it, I would be very happy. I know the feeling of losing something important.”