Congestion Charge Changes

The Mayor of London has announced a number of proposed changes to the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). This tax was first introduced in 2002 when the charge to enter the central London zone was set at £5. It has subsequently been increased several times with the last change being to raise it to £15 and extend the hours to most of the day and to weekends.

That change was proposed to be a temporary measure to ensure that traffic did not increase during the pandemic as people avoided public transport but was also clearly intended to help with TfL’s budget problems.

It is now proposed to make the £15 charge permanent, but to reduce the charging hours during weekdays to 0700-1800 and weekend hours to 1200-1800.

Residents’ discounts will be reinstated but the previous discount for using Autopay is not reinstated.

You can see details of these changes with a link to the public consultation on this web page: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes . PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION

Comment: As is usual, the Mayor breaks a commitment that the increased charge was temporary so as to make more money. The pandemic is effectively over so there is no longer any justification for the increase. The reduction in hours may give some assistance to entertainment venues in the evening but that is a minor benefit to relatively few people in comparison with the number likely be affected by the increased tax.

The congestion charge has never proved to be effective in reducing traffic congestion and is a very expensive way of collecting more tax. Claims for its success are simply wrong.

The congestion tax should be removed!

See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm for more details on the history of this tax and the evidence for its failure to achieve its objectives.

Roger Lawson

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The Mayor of London’s Agenda and New York’s Congestion Charge

Our new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a tweet that spells out his priorities. This is what he said:

Okay—here’s the plan:

🔨 Create + protect jobs
💰 Help businesses grow
🌳 Tackle the climate crisis
🏠 Build new homes
🚓 Invest in policing
🎬 Create opportunities for young people
🏆 Celebrate diversity
💪🏽 Root out inequality
⚽ Deliver an amazing Euro2020

<END>

These are all fine words, but rather like the Government’s policies as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, rather short on detail. It also contains phrases like “celebrate diversity” that are not just meaningless, but do not lead to specific actions or budget allocations. Many people would argue that there is too much diversity in London and that leads to social incoherence, and why should the Mayor be spending time or money on celebrating it anyway? We all know that the population of London is now very diverse and we have all come to accept that. So what is there to celebrate?

One big issue is certainly the comment that he plans to “Tackle the Climate Crisis”. Is there one? If you look at many London boroughs who have introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods they have justified this on the basis of tackling climate change. They argue that it is important to cut emissions from vehicles when doing so will have minimal impact on the climate. Climate may be influenced by man-made emissions (although some dispute that) but cutting vehicle emissions in London will have a negligible influence. Emissions in London come from many different sources and directly relate to the population of London and their requirements for buildings, heating and transport. The Mayor’s policies imply more businesses, more buildings to accommodate them, more homes for the workers and more infrastructure to support them so this is all contradictory.

Only if the Mayor adopted a policy of reducing the population of London while providing more infrastructure – particularly in terms of transport – would the environment be improved.

New York, New York

It’s interesting to look at another major city which has similar transport problems – a heavily congested road network and a public transport system in deficit. Just like the impact of the Covid epidemic on the budgets of Transport for London, New York is facing a major problem. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget (which covers the subway and some bus services and is equivalent to TfL in London) is projecting a deficit of $16 billion for the period 2020 to 2024, even after major cuts in services.

New York is planning to introduce congestion charging to cut traffic and of course generate some income for the MTA – as much as $15 billion by charging $10 to $15 dollars per day for those entering Manhattan. But the adjacent state of New Jersey, from which many people commute into New York City, is threatening retaliation. Senator Laguna and Assemblyman Tully are developing legislation that would impose tolls on non-residents driving between New Jersey and New York. Mr Tully said “We should not be used to fund the MTA”.

This is equivalent to Essex or Kent imposing a tax on Londoners who drive into their counties if Sadiq Khan imposed a toll on those who drive into London from outside the M25 – as he is proposing. This is surely a very good response to such a threat!

County Councils that border the M25 should surely be asking the Government for such legislation, or asking the Government to stop this taxation without representation.

Roger Lawson

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Congestion Charge Rise to be Scrapped?

In June 2020 the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) was raised to £15 per day and made effective for 24 hours per day for 7 days per week. This was declared to be a “temporary” change to cope with the impact on TfL finances of the Covid pandemic and to discourage car use which might rise in the short term as people avoided public transport. Mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the Government for forcing him to make the change although Government Ministers said it was solely his decision.

But on the 26th April Khan said in a hustings meeting that “I will be negotiating with the Government so we don’t have to have it [the increased congestion charge] seven days a week or up until 10pm”.

But Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey said this to City AM in response: “Sadiq Khan is making things complicated. But the truth is very simple.

The Mayor decided to raise the Congestion Charge and the Mayor can choose to reverse it – today. The fact that he isn’t tells us everything we need to know.

Khan is trying to win votes by promising to cut the very taxes he raised. That’s like an arsonist trying to get out of jail by promising to put out the fire he started”.

Bailey went on to reiterate a pledge he made last June, saying: “As Mayor, I’ll reverse the Congestion Charge hike on day one, no consultation, no studies, no ifs, not buts. This is the fresh start that London needs.”

Comment: From my personal experience of driving into central London for hospital visits in the last few weeks, the raised congestion tax made absolutely no difference. When nobody was going to work in central London the traffic disappeared. When they returned the traffic was worse than it was before the lock-downs.

This looks like another attempt to win votes by bribing the electorate from Sadiq Khan which he has been so adept at doing in the past. But will he actually remove the “temporary” increase and extended times? His statement is ambiguous to say the least.

I suggest Shaun Bailey is more to be trusted on this than Sadiq Kahn, something to bear in mind when voting next week.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Congestion Charge Extension – Who Is Telling the Truth?

Readers are probably aware of the financial difficulties of Transport for London (TfL) and hence Sadiq Khan. The fall in income has been devastating as people have avoided public transport because of the epidemic while TFL have continued to run the same frequency of services on buses and the underground. As these services are the main sources of income to TfL while costs have remained unchanged, the result has been a ballooning operational deficit. The Mayor is now asking for billions of pounds to keep TfL afloat.

He alleges that the Conservative Government is forcing him to extend the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) as a condition for supplying more money while the Government says that is only one of several “proposals” that they are asking the Mayor to consider to put the finances back in a stable position.

The Prime Minister alleged in the Commons that TfL had been put into a state of “bankruptcy” which was “entirely the fault of the current Labour Mayor of London” due to his policy on fares. But the Mayor described the Prime Minister as lying and has defended his financial record, blaming the problems purely on the Covid-19 epidemic. It’s basically a “blame game” so beloved of politicians.

But the reality is that I wrote negatively in January (i.e. before the epidemic hit) on the subject of TfL budgets and finances (see Reference 1 below). The article included these comments:

“Despite cutting operating costs, one of the few good things reported, there will be deficits of £307m, £493m and £513m in TfL (after “capital renewals”) for this year and the two following ones and barely break-even in 2022/23. As a result, the Mayor will have to substantially increase borrowing to cover that and large amounts of capital expenditure for both Crossrail and other network improvements. That includes £2.2 billion this year and next year, followed by £1.2 billion each year in subsequent years. Total borrowing will reach £12.3 billion within 2 years” and “…..the Business Plan may be totally unrealistic. In summary the Business Plan and Budget demonstrate an incompetent Mayor and senior management at TfL who wish to get us all cycling, walking or using public transport while the road network gets worse”.

But ignoring the blame game and past history, what can the Mayor realistically do to avoid TfL becoming bankrupt? These are the main options as I see them:

  1. Reduce services and cut staff (the major proportion of their costs) in TfL so as to match income.
  2. Increase bus and underground fares substantially, a politically unpopular choice as the Mayor has lauded his past fare freezes.
  3. Increase the Mayor’s precept on Council Tax, which would raise Council Tax for all Londoners. A politically unpopular choice for the Mayor as he comes up for re-election in May 2021 and local councils would blame the Mayor for the increases in Council Tax they have to impose.
  4. Expand the Congestion Charge over a wider area, or increase the charges on that or for the ULEZ – the latter is already planned to expand to the North/South Circular in October 2021.

Expanding the Congestion Charge zone would be deeply unpopular with drivers and there are enormous numbers of people who live within the North/South Circular and drive vehicles (about 3 million people with probably 50% of households owning a car).  This is what Deputy Transport Mayor Heidi Alexander said at a recent TfL meeting: “Neither the Mayor nor I can see how it would be right to charge people £15 to drive a mile from Wandsworth to Clapham, or from Catford to Lewisham from October of next year …”.

There have already been over 100,000 signatures on a petition opposing an expansion of the Congestion Charge – see http://chng.it/7zNp6sHhm8 . Please sign it!

The Mayor is therefore faced with some very tough choices, hence his approach of blaming the Government no doubt. But it is his responsibility to make the choice.

I suspect there is going to be a mixture of all the above, or some other compromise, if the Government simply refuses to hand out more cash with no view of when TfL finances will be stable. That is something it should definitely not do.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has of course consistently opposed the Congestion Charge, a tax under another name. It is very expensive to collect and has not reduced congestion as claimed. See this web page for an analysis of the Charge and why we still oppose it: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

We suggest the Mayor should choose options 1 to 3 only. It is not clear to us why drivers should pay to keep public transport afloat – they already pay billions more in taxes than the cost to maintain the roads. In reality part of the problem is that transport in central London is heavily used by commuters from outside London who do not pay the realistic costs of the provision of bus and underground services. Buses for example are subsidised by almost £1 billion per year in London, which is no doubt politically popular (even Boris Johnson bottled bringing it under control when Mayor). But that is one lunacy that should surely be stopped.

TfL Budgets have been driven by political populism for many years when it is in essence a business and should be run like one. Why should TfL who obtain income from public transport also have control of the road network? The result is bias against other forms of transport. It is surely time to remove TfL from the Mayor’s control.

Griff Rhys Jones wrote a very interesting article for the Spectator recently about the dire London transport situation. One of his comments was “The most effective planet-saving reforms would be to prevent commercial ‘centres’ and to spread ‘live-work’ across the entirety of London. Instead, we are once again pursuing outmoded and outdated ‘visions’. (Or ‘fantasies’, as London-wide protests by ordinary working people are calling them.) Our capital is a success because people inhabit it”. See Reference 2 below.

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has certainly been very defective, apart from the budget lunacy and that is one reason why London was so vulnerable to the virus.

Roger Lawson.

Reference 1: TfL Budgets. https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Reference 2: Spectator Article: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/london-s-war-on-motorists-isn-t-helping-anybody

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Motorists to Pay for Sadiq Khan’s Financial Incompetence?

Newspapers have reported that the Government is imposing tough conditions for another bail-out of Transport for London (TfL). TfL are in severe financial difficulties as most of their income comes from fare paying passengers on buses and the London underground. But passengers have declined very sharply as they are avoiding the risk of Covid-19 infection on public transport and many City workers have moved to work from home.

TfL have already had £1.6 billion from the Government in May to keep them afloat, but it is reported that they are asking for another £2 billion for this financial year alone, with another £2.9 billion later.

Taking into account the population of London that means every man, woman and child in London will be paying the equivalent of £700 each in taxes to keep TfL afloat. A completely ridiculous sum!

The Government is allegedly requiring TfL to extend the Congestion Charge zone – presumably to the North/South Circular – plus increases in public transport fares and cancellation of free travel for children and older people.

Clearly tough decisions are required unless the Government comes up with some cash, TfL may be forced to issue a Section 114 notice – the equivalent of a public body going bust. Such a Notice inhibits any new expenditure which would severely hamper the Mayor and TfL. But would that be a bad thing when so much money is currently being wasted on daft road schemes and cycle lanes?

The basic problem is that while customers have disappeared, TfL have continued to run unchanged services which no commercial business would have done. They should have reduced services to save money, i.e. matched services to customer demand. What is the point of running trains or buses with nobody on them? It’s financial lunacy. They are also suffering from past financial mismanagement and delays to the Elizabeth line which meant they had no financial buffer to cope with the epidemic.

But who is going to pay for these problems? Apparently the motorist which is quite unjust.

I have sent the following email to my Member of Parliament  – I suggest readers do the same:

To Robert Neill, M.P.

Dear Bob,

I see that according to press reports the Government is demanding tough measures from Sadiq Khan and TfL to keep the latter afloat. That includes an extension of the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax).

It is absolutely unacceptable that motorists should be required to bail out Sadiq Khan and the management of TfL as a result of their financial incompetence.

The Government should simply say “no more hand-outs – you need to adjust your revenue and costs on public transport so that they match”. Otherwise they should let it go bust and take over direct control of the organisation and institute some sensible management. That includes cutting out all those expensive cycle lanes and other traffic schemes that do not generate any revenue at present but cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

Yours, Roger Lawson  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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More Taxes on Car Drivers, and Londoners in General

I covered the TfL bail-out deal that Sadiq Khan agreed with the Government in a previous blog post. As usual the Mayor blames the Government. So he says today: “The Government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19”. He also said: “This deal is a sticking plaster. The old model for funding public transport in London simply does not work in this new reality – fares income will not cover the cost of running services while so few people can safely use public transport. Over the next few months we will have to negotiate a new funding model with Government – which will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both”. Yes it looks like the Mayor wants to take more from you in taxes!

See the link to the full announcement below.

To help raise more revenue, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ taxes are being immediately reinstated and the Congestion Charge is to go up a whopping 30% from the 22nd June and the times will be extended to between 07:00 and 22:00, seven days a week. It is suggested this might be a temporary change, but don’t bet on it!

In addition there will be road closures and Heidi Alexander has said “One of the world’s largest car free zones will be created in central London as part of our response to Covid-19”.

This is what Black-cab driver and general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) Steve McNamara said to the BBC: “ It’s an absolute disgrace –  no one had been consulted about plans to change the use of some roads. Usually you have to consult with the public and businesses – they are using a health emergency to get around the laws to consult people before you do these things. London will grind to a halt even with reduced people. It’s a land grab to exclude Londoners from their roads and to widen pavements for more cycling”.

We certainly agree with those comments and we have pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to introduce an agenda that penalises private travel and reduces your freedom.

But it’s not just vehicle users who are going to be penalised. The BBC has said this about the Freedom Pass: “Under the new conditions, children will no longer have free travel across London and restrictions on travel passes for people with a disability or over the age of 60 will also be imposed during peak hours”, although no formal announcement has yet to be made. The Freedom Pass might have been overdue for reform but the Mayor will no doubt blame this on the Government also rather than his own financial mismanagement.

Roger Lawson

Mayor’s Announcement: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/statement-from-the-mayor-of-london-regarding-tfl

You can see more details of the proposals from TfL to change London here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/streetspace-for-london

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Should the ULEZ and Congestion Charge be Suspended?

Should the ULEZ and Congestion Charge be suspended in London? Bearing in mind that crowded public transport is a good way of spreading the coronavirus and even Sadiq Khan has changed his tune and is advising everyone to stop non-essential travel, would it not be a good idea to encourage people to use private cars and taxis instead?

Using your own vehicle would ensure that you did not come into contact with other people so it is surely a wise move, particularly as traffic levels have reduced and the school run will be non-existent from today. We certainly think it is a good idea – we issued this press release to highlight the issue: https://tinyurl.com/rcdoqow . It would enable essential workers to get around in relative safety.

Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey supports the idea and has also called for parking charges to be abandoned – see https://tinyurl.com/w7nn8je . But will the Mayor suspend the ULEZ and Congestion Charge? It seems unlikely because the main object of these schemes is to generate money for the Mayor and TfL and they have not reduced congestion or air pollution. Indeed traffic congestion has got even worse since the charge was introduced. It might be simpler and wiser to abandon them altogether!

Postscript: only hours after issuing this post, the Mayor announced the suspension of the Congestion Charge, ULEZ and LEZ.

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More Tax Raising by Sadiq Khan – Changes to the Congestion Charge

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has decided to proceed with his proposed changes to the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax). Private hire vehicles (PHVs – minicabs including Uber vehicles) will no longer be exempt from the Charge from April 2019.

This change is justified on the basis that congestion will be reduced after the number of vehicles, particularly PHVs has increased substantially in recent years. Now only 50% of vehicles entering the central zone pay the Charge. But how much will the number of vehicles be reduced – about 1% according to TfL.

The fact that taxis (registered black cabs) will continue to be exempt but PHVs will not be is a most peculiar anomaly. A legal challenge may well be mounted over that issue. But taxi drivers are also unhappy with the latest announcement because the Mayor is going to limit the age of such vehicles to 12 years when the current maximum is 15 years.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) from the Congestion Charge for low emission vehicles is being scrapped and replaced by a new Cleaner Vehicle Discount (CVD). The latter discount will only be available to zero emission (i.e. electric vehicles) from 2021 to 2025 after which no discounts at all will apply.

These changes are going to mean substantial extra revenue to the Mayor and TfL and are surely more about tax raising than the claimed objectives. These changes are simply irrational and will have no impact on either air pollution or congestion in central London.

We have pointed out before that the London Congestion Charge is a totally ineffective solution to traffic congestion and has just turned into a revenue raising scam. See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

We, along with many other organisations, submitted objections to the changes which have simply been ignored. See this web page for a more details and a link to the consultation responses: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/

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Changes to Congestion Charge – PHVs Targeted To Raise Money

The Mayor of London and TfL have announced proposals to change the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) so as to raise more money. The main change is that PHVs (minicabs) will no longer be exempt from paying this tax. Uber and other drivers will no doubt be up in arms about this and it will mean their clients pay a lot more.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) which currently applies to vehicles that emit less than 75g/km of CO2 will need to have zero emission capability by 2019 and by 2021 only electric vehicles will qualify. That means that many of the 20,000 vehicles currently registered for the ULED will need to be changed if the owners wish to continue to qualify for the discount.

A Blatant Lie

What’s the justification for these changes? The consultation announcement says that the Congestion Charge “was a huge success”. It claims a reduction in traffic and a 30% reduction in congestion as well as improvements in air quality since it was introduced. These claims are simply spurious. There was a short-term reduction in some vehicles entering the central zone, but the numbers of taxis, PHVs and buses increased. The result was that congestion soon returned to what it was before the tax was introduced and has since got substantially worse. Neither was there any improvement in air pollution which was never expected to happen and did not. See this web page for the facts: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

The claims made by TfL are downright lies. But traffic delays have been increasing which is the justification put forward by TfL for the proposed changes.

Why Should Taxis Be Exempt?

One controversial aspect of the original scheme was that registered taxis (black cabs) and PHVs (private hire vehicles) were exempt from the congestion tax. It was never very clear as to why some vehicles should be exempt while others are not. Why should private car occupants pay the charge while people using other vehicles for similar journeys should not? Even more puzzling is why PHVs are now proposed to be taxed while taxis are not. What is the logic of this? Note that the increase in PHVs due to the popularity of services such as Uber has led to many more vehicles entering central London of late and hence have contributed to congestion significantly in the last couple of years. But will the tax now proposed actually reduce their numbers? That is surely unlikely for the same reason that the congestion charge scheme did not reduce congestion. The unsatisfied public demand is such as to soon soak up the capacity released by people unwilling to pay the tax. You cannot solve congestion via taxation!

It’s About Money

The conclusion must be that these proposals are more about raising money for the Budget of Mayor Sadiq Khan. He desperately needs it. See previous blog posts for coverage of that topic.

A Timely Announcement

One might ask why the Mayor chose to announce these changes on a Friday lunchtime when the news channels will be dominated by the Brexit decisions and the England World Cup match for the next 48 hours. This might enable him to escape the opprobrium of PHV drivers for a few hours but not much longer I suggest.

More Information

See this web page for more information and to respond to an on-line consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/?cid=ccyourviews

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Traffic Speeds in London – They Are Getting Worse

I was having a clear out today of my office, and I happened to notice a copy of Ken Livingstone’s Mayor’s Transport Strategy dating from July 2001. It made for both amusing reading and anger at the lack of progress made since.

This is the first sentence in his Foreword to that document: “The single biggest problem for London is the gridlock of our transport system. At the start of the 21st Century, traffic speeds in central London have fallen to less than ten miles an hour with knock-on effects on the speed and reliability of the bus system. Congestion is growing in outer London town centres. Rail services are in unprecedented crisis. The Underground is more over-crowded and unreliable…..”. He said the transport crisis threatened London’s economic prosperity and suggested London needed a “world class transport system”.

Have we got one now? Not exactly and traffic speeds have actually fallen below what they were in 2001. In central London traffic speeds were reported as being less than 9 mph in central London last year by various sources, and as low as 7.3 mph in one quarter in 2017.

The Underground is more crowded than ever with some stations having to be closed at peak times. Surface rail has improved in some regards on some lines, but certainly not if you are a Southern Rail user.

What did Mr Livingstone plan to do to improve the dire state of affairs he commented upon? Apart from the fine words about improving the capacity of the public transport network as in Sadiq Khans recently published Transport Strategy, he proposed to implement a Congestion Charge “to deter unnecessary vehicle journeys in central London”. That obviously did not work. You can find a lot more analysis of why on this web page: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm .

Excuses from the Mayor and Transport for London as to why it did not work are numerous but are false. It failed simply because London has such high unsatisfied demand for road space and lots of people willing to pay for it, that they simply soaked up the space. The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) has more than doubled since Ken Livingstone introduced it, and still it did not work. In addition, more road space has been taken up by buses which are massively subsidised and their numbers expanded under Livingstone (they are still high) and by the modern fashion for PHVs (Uber etc). The growth in the population of London, and of businesses in central London, have created major headwinds in addition while cycle lanes have taken up valuable road space but are often relatively little used.

Mr Livingstone, and his successors Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have persisted with irrational and unproductive gestures without getting to the nub of the issue and producing policies that might actually work. Boris Johnson seemed to try to solve the problem by encouraging cycling, and Sadiq Khan’s added walking as a solution to both our transport and health problems. He also suggests road pricing or more congestion charging might help when we know from experience that those policies will not improve matters.

I suggest readers tell Sadiq Khan that a totally fresh approach is needed. Not more of the same regurgitated policies that emanate from Transport for London.

Roger Lawson

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