$2.50 in cash, iPhone with Apple Pay, ORCA card, pre-paid debit MasterCard
Next Generation ORCA will accept more ways to pay for your ride
photo by Oran

The Regional Fare Coordination Board (ORCA Joint Board) has been working toward a new version of the ORCA product to be rolled out in 2021, currently dubbed “Next Generation ORCA”. As part of the new product, London-style daily caps on fares were high on the list of elements to be considered for development, with software development to commence in 2018.

The Regional Transit Committee, a panel of elected officials from around the county that has some authority to block council decisions on policies covering King County Metro, recently gave its green light to a report from a 2016 Fare Forum convened by the ORCA Joint Board. While referring the report to the RTC was not mandatory, it is a common practice to keep that panel in the loop.

Three major recommendations came out of the 2016 Fare Forum:

Eliminate zone-based fares in order to reduce Next Generation ORCA system development time and costs, reduce customer confusion, reduce operator interactions, and improve boarding times.
Eliminate trip-based peak fares but allow for time-based peak fares in the ORCA system design, in order to reduce Next Generation ORCA system development time and costs, increase regional fare coordination, and make fares simpler for customers to understand.
Not to pursue fare capping because it could increase Next Generation ORCA system design complexity and costs and is expected to negatively impact agency revenue.

This recommendation not only means the ORCA pod does not plan to institute day caps, but also that it will not even develop the software to make it an option. The intent is not to preclude such a feature, but developing it would cost additional money down the road.

King County Metro is well on the way to eliminating zones, with a proposal expected from the Executive’s office sometime this summer in line with the recent surveying on two options for doing so.

Sound Transit could easily move to a fare system for ST Express buses that charges more by distance and separates limited-stop routes from true inter-county express routes like 510, 511, 513, 586, 590, 592, 594, and 595. Getting rid of zone resets for passengers boarding in the Central Business District would help move buses a little bit faster through downtown.

Having Community Transit eliminate zones would have no practical effect on downtown bus speed, as all the commuter buses charge commuter fares. It would have a nuisance factor for riders taking intra-county trips on the commuter routes though. The county-line surcharge would presumably go away after most of the commuter routes are reorganized to terminate at Lynnwood’s light rail station in 2023. So, expect Community Transit to also eliminate zones … in 2023, assuming attempts to eliminate $1 billion in federal funding don’t delay line construction.

The report is not clear whether paper fare products would need to fall in line with time-based peak surcharges instead of trip-based peak surcharges. However, King County Metro is the only agency currently using a peak surcharge. The county council could make the point moot by (1) adopting the all-day flat-fare proposal or (2) eliminating paper transfers. Other agencies have expressed interest in the ability to apply a peak surcharge, so the software feature may still be developed even if no agency has stated it will use it.

The current ORCA vendor contract ends in 2021. Next Generation ORCA is expected to be account-based, with the ability to use smart phones and similar technology to pay fares, get transfers, and buy passes good across participating agencies, possibly including Washington State Ferries. WSF is evaluating the possibilities, but has to maintain 70% farebox recovery by state law, and would need the approval of the Washington State Transportation Commission for any fare change.

61 Replies to “Next Generation ORCA Will Not Include Day Caps”

  1. Are we really saying that in 2021 in the Seattle metro region we’re going to let the “design complexity” of something like transit fare collection algorithms drive policy options for the next generation? Ride-sharing services change prices in real-time. We can do real-time augmented reality on a single smart phone in 2017. This isn’t a credible claim.

    1. I’m not sure what you are trying to say, but this isn’t about “augmented reality”. It’s about simply trying to run a transit system in ways that riders can understand and easily pay fares and agencies can achieve their fare recovery goals. Although the use of gross “fare recovery” is an exercise in “augmented reality”, compared to the more real measurement of net fare recovery.

      If you want serious non-credible claims and “augmented reality”, listen to Bob Hasegawa claim we can run transit without charging fares if we just had a municipal bank.

      1. I’m dismissing the excuse that it’s too complex to implement fare capping in a new system being designed and built in 2017-2021, especially here in Seattle which is crawling with engineers and students solving much harder problems every day. If we don’t want fare caps for policy reasons, so be it, but I am not buying any claim that it’s a hard problem to solve.

      2. I’ll use an example from here in Portland:

        When you pay a fare, you can buy a $2.50 ticket good for 2.5 hours, or a $5 day ticket, or a more complicated fare that includes the C-Tran express bus routes across the river in Clark County.

        With the Hop card (or the phone app as it is now), your fare is capped at $5 per day on TriMet or normal C-Tran routes. You pay $2.50 when boarding the first time, then when that runs out and you tap again it grabs another $2.50 and gives you a day pass, since you would have gotten a day pass anyway.

        Except if you tap onto a C-Tran express. As those are extra price services, then you get charged another $2.40 or something to use those.

        If you do this for 20 days, then you are looking at $100 of day tickets, which is the cost of a monthly pass. Therefore, on the 21st day of a calendar month, you will get a monthly pass when you tap.

        Except, again, in the case of CTran express buses, and you have to tap onto those a few more times to get a monthly pass good for those as well.

        As far as I can tell, the TriMet 1 week and 2 week passes are not included (yet???) in the HOP card programming. If this were to be the case, then you would be capped at $26 per 7 days of card taps. However, the TriMet 1 week passes are only available on the MAX ticket machines anyway.

    2. I don’t understand why fare caps require custom sofware when other agencies have them and they’re becoming more standard. Doesn’t that really mean that this vendor doesn’t offer it off-the-shelf, and if so maybe we chose the wrong vendor or prioritized the criteria wrong?

      However, you can’t compare a transit agency directly to a rideshare company. Rideshare companies raise billions of dollars from investors for R&D projects and unknown “innovations”. Agencies have a limited pool of tax money that’s just enough for conventional solutions. Anything more would be called “wasteful, an intolerable burden on taxpayers who can’t opt out, and unfailrly competing with the private sector”.

    3. This reads as though the elected officials on this board still think software is like it was in 1998.

      They obviously don’t understand that today’s software is an opportunity, not a constraint. For them to even buy software development as a constraining reason shows how backwards they are when it comes to technology.

      1. The problem Al S. is we are NOT on the Board and cannot directly apply or seek election to a transit board. Some people use the ad hominem calling such “sabotage”, I call it democracy.

        Furthermore, I really hope at some point in the near future a mid-term exam of a public input period is given. ORCA 2 is going to be a game-changer. I might even advocate for “my” Skagit Transit to join it – under certain preconditions around data security and then we can negotiate in earnest around cost-sharing.

      2. Sadly, this is nothing new.

        We’ve heard nothing but lame excuses when it comes to the Real Time Arrival rollout (which STILL hasnt happened) or the total lack of useful information on the Link platform displays.

        ST has no problem treating us like morons. Or maybe they’re the morons and they actually believe their own bull****.

  2. In one of the world’s two “pods” of software excellence, ORCA can’t have a day maximum (nor obviously a month maximum), because it’s just too hard. Maybe we should contract with Uber to program it.

    No, not Uber, Lyft, so it doesn’t take advantage of female riders.

    1. The agencies aren’t going with a system that “is expected to negatively impact agency revenue” just because it is complex, but also because it “is expected to negatively impact agency revenue”.

      1. Free interagency passes serve the important function of not punishing multi-seat rides, making it even harder to rationalize routes.

        Those who want day caps need to make a case for their utility to the agencies.

      2. It seems they keep needlessly expanding “low-income” travel (and doing more damage than good) , but they can’t benefit those who actually pay for the system because it will “negatively impact agency fare revenue.” Something smells fishy.

    2. I don’t think it’s hard, it just costs money. And there’s no mandate for the feature.

  3. I’m with Richard and Jonathan on this. We are talking about software. Software is cheap. A lot of software is essentially free. I see no reason why this software can’t be developed as an open source project. You might need to pay some people to do some work, but the benefits are likely huge compared to the cost.

    1. “You might need to pay some people to do some work…” That’s the problem. ST (and most in Seattle) would rather give away free things than pay people to work.

  4. Will the regional day pass still be available? It’s not as good as a day cap but it’s still a useful option.

    1. I think it will be, but it’s MUCH more expensive than a tap twice and you’re done daily cap on Metro would be.

      1. I would be willing to do the $9 regional day pass cap. As it is now, with the day delay between applying for the pass and getting it on the card, it’s hard to know when it will take effect.

  5. As a software developer myself, this excuse just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Doing an additional database lookup to see how much the passenger has already spent today should not be a monumental task.

  6. Who do we contact to harangue about this? Another point PDX if we don’t get this fixed.

  7. Can the ORCA folks not take a look at the myriad of cities that already offer this? London, Portland, SF, actually most cities that use a smartcard for fares. I can’t believe this is some custom, special case for Seattle. Then again, ST bought two different makes of trains and SDOT bought a one of a kind streetcar propulsion system, so I guess complexity is fun?

    1. My guess is that it has to do with the 8 or 9 different agencies that have their hands in the orca pot plus all the politicians that want to maximize any revenue out of the system rather than writing some of it off for the greater good.

      1. MrZ;

        I have to respond to this. I’m on a transit advisory committee and we have a member who wants to go fare-free. Problem is, $900K in annual funding is A LOT OF service hour funding. There’s your “greater good”.



      2. They’re not for-profit companies; the money isn’t going into plush office furniture and their kids’ college education, it’s going into transit service, like the just-announced extra runs on the 70 to mitigate overcrowding. That’s a greater good too. The reason the agencies are so tightfisted about maximum daily fares is that’s the money that’s funding the buses on the road. All the agencies went through a terrible recession a few years ago with a steep revenue loss and layoffs and cuts, and they’ve just now gotten into a position where they can stabilize and expand. Meanwhile the population keeps increasing and filling the buses, and because fares only cover 30% of Metro’s operating expenses, the other 70% has to come from sonewhere else, which is taxes, and it’s very difficult to raise taxes, there are a lot of structural blockages and caps in addition to the voters’ sentiment, that’s why the agencies don’t have a lot of service now at European levels that would actually make it convenient for the majority of the region to get out of their cars.

  8. I have to disagree with everyone here. I don’t think anyone said this was impossible – it just adds cost and complexity. And it’s not just an additional operation at the end of the day. What happens when people contest charges, or a bus breaks down and the fares get loaded a day late?

    This type of software is not cheap. It’s not a smartphone app. It’s software that has to run with almost 100% reliability on embedded hardware scattered on buses and trains across the region under multiple operators with multiple price rules. Response time has to be almost instantaneous, despite the lack of a reliable network connection (imagine having to wait 10 seconds after each person boards).

    I’m sure that there’s some software that already exists out there. But it’s not going to be cheap and it still has to be customized for all the various rules here. And open source does not mean free. Someone still has to build the software, and this type of project (from the ground up) would takes a team of developers a substantial amount of time to do right. That’s a lot of money.

    1. We know it works; it’s just whether agencies feel it’s worth the expense for customer convenience. It’s been done in the Bay Area’s Clipper card which is the same technology as ORCA (same vendor as ORCA originally, using the same readers), not even the next gen they’re talking about here.

      The Bay Area has a lot more agencies on Clipper with more complex fare rules than ORCA and they’re hitting hard limits on what the technology can do but they managed with a card-based system. You’d think with an account-based system it’d be easier to implement this.

    2. As someone who tests software for a living I suspect there are potential failure points that nobody here including myself are aware about. This is common in large systems. Last week I had a developer pull a last minute minor change on me that he didn’t realize cost me 3 days of time tracking and testing scenarios on our system. In the end it failed and had to be reworked which again cost him only an hour of his time but cost me another 2 days of testing.

      1. Significant differences:

        + Here, we are talking years, not days.

        + Here we are talking about software other systems are using that already have this feature.

      2. They said similar things about Good To Go — “we are talking about software other systems are using today”. They hired an out of state vendor with experience in the area. Yet we suffered numerous months because the system didn’t work right.

        A new feature sounds simple and then after some investigation more questions get asked or stakeholders ask for more that could increase complexity. Some quick examples. Should we have different fare caps depending on whether the person is a child/senior/disabled? Do we adjust the fare cap for an individual because one of their trips was covered by a monthly pass and how would we handle that? Should we have family/household/group fare caps? If we start charging for parking at transit centers in the future should that adjust the fare cap for that person? Should a person paying cash somehow be able to get a fare cap? Can we get monthly/yearly fare caps as well as daily?

      3. I just want to add yes this can be done. I am not arguing against it! It isn’t an obstacle we can’t overcome if we choose to do it. We can invest the time, the money, and work out the issues and have what we believe is a better system. Yes!

        I want to avoid armchair referee grumbling that it is a simple idea so it must be a simple change and besides that other cities are doing it so copying the idea sounds free. It might be but I sense not. Like some others, I just want clearer answers from the powers that be.

      4. My understanding is that the people behind Good to Go had a long history of similar screw ups similar systems in Texas.

        If you don’t want a vendor to screw something up, then don’t contract with a vendor with a history of screwing things up.

        A person paying cash can get a fare cap by buying a monthly pass or an annual pass (at least, in TriMet / C-Tran you can get an annual pass).

        However, sometimes it isn’t clear if transit use will be sufficient for an annual pass to be worthwhile. Suppose you change jobs and states of residence?

        The fare cap allows you to not worry about buying a day or monthly or annual pass if your plans might change in the future.

      5. Even if ORCA is a completely off-the-shelf system with selectable features, adding additional features will require additional testing. That will cost extra. No matter how many times the vendor has implemented it successfully. So there will be a cost.

        Whether adding a feature is worth that cost is a policy question.

  9. How did Trimet manage to do it? Maybe ask them?

    I want to defend our transit agencies, but sometimes they make it damn hard to do.

      1. Right, Oran, and C-Tran has the expresses which have been a problem for single-riders originating on Tri-Met. When we had the ticket books, C-Tran made them the proper size so that they could at least be validated at a MAX station and used. But you couldn’t begin your trip on a Tri-Met bus because you’d have to deposit the ticket and Tri-Met paper transfers were no good. It worked for me at Nike, but people originating off MAX could not transfer to the expresses without paying twice.

        Now there are punch cards on C-Tran, and those don’t work because they can’t be validated. Ergo, while an express rider can still transfer TO Tri-Met in the morning, in the evening she or he has to pay Tri-Met and then C-Tran. It’s expensive.

        It will be interesting to see how they have solved this problem. I guess the Hop cars will charge the difference when the rider taps on the express like crossing a county line on ORCA.

    1. It’s been my expierence that overall fare policy is set at the board level. It’s all politics and who thinks they should get more money, even though farebox revenues are so low i do t think it could cover the cost of the systems in use today.

  10. “Next Generation ORCA is expected to be account-based”

    I thought current generation ORCA was already account-based for many people. Does this mean it will no longer be possible to buy a travel card anonymously, with cash, under the new system?

    1. The current system stores the cash value/pass info on the card itself. When you tap, that gets updated. An account based system will store all the data on a backend. Tapping is only used to identify you and it doesn’t actually need to store anything on the card (though it can). Hence why you can use any card or even phone that supports RFID (credit cards, debit cards, etc…). I’m sure you’ll still be able to buy an ORCA card for cash and have an anonymous account.

  11. How about an all-day, all land-based route pass?

    I can understand charging a premium on top of that for WSF, Kitsap Transit and the King County Water Taxi – folks, it costs an incredible amount of money in human resources & fuel to move people via ferry, especially fast ferries that are run like racehorses.

    But an all day land-base route pass for tourists and business travelers would be a life-saver. I mean if you have to span the district as I did six (6) days ago, that two-hour transfer may not be enough.

    1. And Sounder. Sounder is the main reason we can’t have a flat unlimited fare for all ground modes. We either exclude it as Chicago does with Metra, or we include it and then a universal pass becomes problematic: only large employers can get them. But when Link extensions open, its maximum fare will reach 5 or 8 dollars and it will become a further obstacle.

  12. How about issuing a single regional pass covering every means of public transit on tires, steel wheels, hulls, hydrofoil foils, wings, and rotor blades.

    Priced somewhere slightly below actual cost of owning and driving a car, with sliding scale by income regardless of age for everyone old enough to be tried as an adult, with free rides for everybody that can’t.

    And inspected only for validity and possession? Because if I get nailed one more time for wrong sequence of card-reader honks and beeps, I’m going to go volunteer full-time as a transit consultant to Bob Hasegawa.

    And also to write a weekly ST column for the Seattle Times. First article copy of this one, with list of ST Board by elected district. Relevant movie recommend: Modern version of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” Rome’s top general going over to the enemy over one piece of crap too many from his own side.

    Great sword-fights with bayonets and Vanessa Redgrave as the general’s mother Hillary Clinton.

    Mark Dublin

  13. I’m not sure what the objectives of the fare caps in London are. Is it working/helping anything?

    I know that I don’t use an Oyster Card (that’s London for ORCA card) when I travel there.

    In London, I use a “contactless debit card” (from Norway) to tap in and out of the train stations or when boarding a bus.

    The fare cap system is incredibly traveler friendly. It means that I don’t buy tickets, I don’t have a separate account at all (I think technically I do). No password to remember, no lines ever, no website, just tap the same card I use for everything. If I ride the Tube all day long it just caps and I don’t have to think about buying a day pass or multi-day ticket.

    In the USA it may have to be modified because our payment systems are different. The only debit card I use is issued by a Norwegian Bank, my American cards don’t work (none are contactless) and neither does Apple Pay with any of my USA-issued cards.

    Nobody I asked knew why American Apple Pay doesn’t work in the London Underground, but someone on Twitter replied to my tweet to TfL that it’s because they use an “offline” verification system stored in the card itself to verify funds instead of verifying funds through the internet.

  14. As per usual, if we want this we’ll have make a big stink. Sigh… To the barricades!

    1. Exactly right Charles.

      Next ORCA Joint Board Meeting where they take public comment:

      ORCA Joint Board Meeting
      Monday, Jul 10, 2017 – 11:00 am to 12:30 pm
      King Street Center Building, 8th Floor Conference Center
      201 S. Jackson St.
      Seattle, WA

      Yeah, stinky timing. I will TRY to make that meeting from photographing the Kitsap Transit inaugural Fast Ferry but I think I can make it.

  15. One of the Political challenges of multiple systems with unique goals with little central oversight. Maybe it’s time to start the equivalent of the Swiss tariff networks at the state level to regulate and intergrate fates and ticketing across all modes. WSDOT/Amtrak Cascades, ST, etc would all be part of the network. Fares, fare policy and ORCA could be managed at the network level. Problem solved.

    1. The state that considers transit an unimportant extra, not worthy of the state’s attention except for a few mostly-rural grants?

  16. Found out two things when I tried to use a TVM to check how many passes I had on my ORCA card an hour ago. As I’d successfully done not a week ago. This time, only got my E-purse balance.

    Had to call ST information for my pass information. New machines don’t disclose it. To discover last straw on the stable floor: The reason I didn’t get the tap-free paper pass I’d been using as Theft By False Accusation of Evasion Insurance.

    Pass is now loaded on the card. So I’m once again subject to a $124 dollar fine for wrong order of tapping.

    I’m not kidding in the slightest about Bob Hasegawa. Same address that keeps me voteless to ST puts me ten minutes away from his Olympia office. And I’ve put enough print in The Seattle Times over the years I could likely get a paid position to handle this exact work like this at this exact time.

    Like I said yesterday, a $124 fine means I’ve got to do without something I need. For an honest mistake, made in the kind of hurry increasingly common to a successful transit system in a major city.

    After 22 years’ pass-holding, without a single willfully unpaid transit fare in my life. Accusation of a crime over a matter of interagency accounting. To a transit agency whose major promise at its inception was an integrated seamless (used that word) system.

    You do this to me, Sound Transit, and you’ve got a personal enemy you’ll wish, after thirty years of constant political and personal support, you didn’t.

    Mark Dublin

    1. What did they fine you for? not tapping out of the system, or not tapping in than tapping out?

      1. MrZ, since in the last two instances I managed not to repeat the mistake within given amount of time, six months or a year, I forget which, I’ve never had to pay the fine. Though not for lack of worrying about it.

        Problem is that if, for instance, you get off a train and then shortly reboard, like to use the bathroom or change direction, and fail to tap off, and then tap on before reboarding, the tap as you board reads as a tap-off.

        So for failing or forgetting to tap off and then being a good citizen by tapping on, you’re looking at a $124 fine and labeled a thief. Against which a pass paid for in full when you buy it should be absolute protection.

        Exactly the same court-enforced punishment as for willful non-payment. Sound Transit has been something of mine since it was called The Regional Transit Project, with Train One nineteen years in the future. The politics of this position were far from correct among the people I worked with in 1983.

        If I’d known the system would contain thinking behind this rule, I would have saved my effort or joined my Local’s majority opinion.


      2. When is the last time anyone reading this got a warning and threat of fine for double-tapping?

        When is the last time anyone reading this got a warning for failure to tap despite having a valid transfer on ORCA that covers that value of the trip?

        When is the last time anyone reading this got a warning for failure to tap despite having a pass that covers the full value of the trip?

        I had a full pass, and still the FEO accused me of attempted theft because I somehow managed to double-tap (easy to do since ST still hasn’t switched to different sounds for tap-on and tap-off, disregarding all their blind riders). But that was years ago. Maybe ST has cleaned up their business practices since then.

        I have no opinion on the utility of day caps, but fining full passholders for mis-tapping is unacceptable, and can easily be avoided by a statistical back-end fix in the revenue split formula instead of diverting FEOs’ attention from catching fare cheaters to harass real fare payers.

  17. Advocates of day caps need to make their case that day caps are useful to the transit agencies. All I’ve seen here is arguing that it is simple to implement. If the software development is that simple, there should be no harm in waiting until an agency expresses interest in it before developing it.

    It may be easy to get whitey back on the moon, but someone would need to explain why we want whitey back on the moon.

  18. The Transport for London “day limit” is referred to by them as “capping”–and is explained in some detail at:
    The range of services and zones traveled through determine when the “cap” is reached. (A major issue is whether or not travel includes Zone 1–central London as opposed to moving within one or more of the outer zones.
    My understanding of the “why” of capping is that it is intended to encourage use of public transport–overcoming expenses of multiple transfers in a transfer-free system–as well as encourage use of transit for short travels within one’s destination area during the given day–a partial answer to those who say they must have a car since they move about in their work day.
    “Capping” may also have had roots in TfL’s early planning to address socio-economic inequality.

    Certainly TfL has got a software experience base in that manages fare-distribution among many different transit entities, eg, the underground, the overground suburban railways, the bus companies (remember the London busses are franchised by route), the Docklands Light Railway, etc. etc.

    So it may, in fact, be “rocket science”, but it appears to be familiar rocket science.

    1. Are we actually sure capping increases ridership though? Suppose I buy a monthly pass – I’ve already paid for something, so I have an incentive to use it. But with a monthly cap, then I only have an incentive to keep using transit if I reach the cap.

      Daily caps make even less sense to me. They’d only be good for occasional users or visitors. And again, they’ll only encourage transit use once you hit the cap.

      Yes, caps do make the system “friendlier”. But I wonder whether they’d actually increase ridership and, if they do, at what cost.

      1. Ironically, it makes more sense with the current ORCA technology than it does with TriMet HOP.

        HOP readers are networked so that transactions only take a few minutes to show up. With ORCA, I can’t use a day pass because it has to be put on the card beforehand but there is no way to predict how long it takes to get to all the card readers.

        If the current ORCA day pass were actually a daily fare cap, I wouldn’t have to worry about if the day pass started on the right day or not. It would simply become effective once my fare hit $9 or more for the day.

        Network readers make it possible to buy a day pass the day it is needed.

        As to who it makes sense for:

        Have you ever forgotten to buy your monthly pass on the start date of the month? Or for some reason not been able to get to a place that sells them on the particular time period in question?

        Suppsoe you have a King County monthly pass, but find yourself working in Pierce for a week and a half, where you don’t have a monthly pass?

        We’ll see how popular it is, but down here it was a popular feature of the phone ticket and thus TriMet decided it should be part of the HOP card.

      2. Yes, this is true. For the current system, a daily fare cap would be valuable because of the system limitations. But they’re definitely not going to add it to the current system and, as you said, the next system shouldn’t have these issues.

        I thought you can load monthly passes from the web site and enable auto load? Sure, you can’t use cash then, but the same would apply if you were using cash only to load an ORCA card.

        As for changing your commute – given the fare based pass system we have here, what you’re basically saying is that your ride might cost a bit more. Even if it costs $1 more each way, you’d need to make 36 more rides to make it worthwhile to upgrade your pass.

        Which brings up the point that all of our passes are fare limited. Even the day pass limits to $3.50 of value. Calculating a monthly cap is going to be a pain given the possible different levels.

        I’m sure it will be popular, but the question is is it worth it? Maybe a study should be done, and if a cap can increase ridership with minimal loss of revenue, it probably is. Otherwise, probably not.

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