In October, Elizabeth Wolfsthal learned firsthand why Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. What no one expected was that the love she experienced would be shown by none other than the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
In town for her bridal shower, Elizabeth, who lives in Manhattan, was met at 30th Street Station that evening by her parents, who had flown up from Florida. Together, they took a cab to their Airbnb in Rittenhouse Square. As she handled the fare, her dad took her suitcase out of the trunk, not realizing that she had also brought a garment bag with her, which he didn’t see in the darkness.
The bag contained two dresses from Rent the Runway, the online store that rents high-end clothing for a portion of its retail price. Elizabeth had rented the dresses for four days, to be worn at her shower that weekend (she hadn’t decided which one she wanted to wear), for a cost of $30. If she didn’t return them, she’d be billed their replacement cost: $600.
“When I noticed the bag was missing, I said a couple of four-letter words and began running toward the cab,” recalled Elizabeth, but "I just could not keep up in my high heels. I made my peace that I would never see those dresses again.”
Her dad, Ted, felt terrible and immediately sprang into action. He called a number for the taxi company, which he found on his credit-card receipt, which led him to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees the city’s taxi operations. It was after business hours, so he left a message in the PPA’s lost-and-found voice mail.
“I had a sleepless night and told Elizabeth I would buy her a new dress” while continuing to hunt for the ones he’d overlooked, “which I gave about a 1% chance of working,” recalled Ted.
The next morning, he connected with Donna Kerwick, enforcement analyst for the PPA’s Taxi and Limousine Division, who generally staffs the lost-and-found line. She’s used to panicked calls from taxi patrons who’ve left valuables behind.
“People are amazed at the whole process, and most people are very grateful that we can usually find the cab while they are still are on the phone,” said Kerwick.
All kinds of things are left behind in cabs, from the typical — cell phones, laptops, umbrellas, and strollers — to the more unusual: a violin, dentures, a prosthetic limb, and a shotgun, according to the PPA spokesman Marty O’Rourke. In all, 931 items were reported lost in 2018 and 51% were recovered and returned to their owners.
When a rider has paid the cab fare with a credit card, the cab can generally be identified, said Kerwick. With a cash fare, the cab can often be tracked down via the customer’s pickup and drop-off locations.
“The more information, the better” the chance of reuniting riders with their stuff, said Kerwick. When an item is reported lost, Kerwick reaches out to the driver for assistance, and if the item is located, she’ll connect the driver with the rider so they can arrange a return.
Sometimes, a driver realizes immediately that an item has been left behind, and turns it in to the PPA. In the case of a found, unlocked cell phone, Kerwick will charge it and call the last number dialed to try to identify the owner. If the phone is locked and no one calls the PPA to report it missing within about six months, it gets donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers.
In the case of the missing dresses, Kerwick was able to quickly identify and contact the cabbie, MD Rokonuzzaman, who still had the dresses in his taxi. Rokonuzzaman met up with the Wolfsthals at the Liberty Bell, where they were sightseeing, and returned the garment bag.
“He didn’t want to accept any reward money, and he drove us back to the Airbnb and didn’t want to take a fee,” said Ted, who insisted that Rokonuzzaman accept a tip anyway. “It ended so well. It shows you that human beings can behave nicely, and we got some of Philly’s brotherly love.”
“I was very glad to get the dresses back to them,” said Rokonuzzaman. “Many people leave things, and it makes me feel good to help people.”
As for bride-to-be Elizabeth, finding the dresses “was just a miracle,” she said. “I ended up wearing the new dress that we bought, but I didn’t end up owing Rent the Runway $600. At the end of the day, they’re just dresses. The bigger, memorable part is that our families are coming together. We were so happy that the cabdriver had such a big heart and went out of his way for us.”