This is a collective post by several Greater Auckland authors. (The header image shows children trying to cross the road a few hundred metres from a school gate, at a location where a raised crossing was subsequently installed.)

The final version of the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) landed on Thursday, at the last possible minute, just before the long weekend.

As we said about the draft version, this is the worst transport policy New Zealand has had in decades and the final version doesn’t change much.

It’s terrible for road safety, undermines pretty much any action to reduce transport emissions, disempowers local government from being able to design internationally proven and locally supported best-practice solutions, and makes accessing funding a bureaucratic nightmare for anything other than overblown and often unnecessary highway projects.

The final version barely changes any of this; it incorporates the Roads of Regional Significance rebranding of the NZ Upgrade Programme, and a few other things like a mention of regional shipping, and city deals – but 99.9% of the draft GPS remains unchanged.

Moreover, when it comes to funding, nobody can pretend any more that the National Land Transport Fund is a user-pays system; it’s now heavily subsidised by other sources. As reported by BusinessDesk:

Of the $22b, $13.8b is forecast to come from fuel excise duty, road-user charges and other fees, whereas the remainder is made up of Crown grants and loans – an illustration of the stretched nature of the revenue system.

Notably, there were a few last-minute tweaks to some of the funding ranges. You’ll never guess: funding for roads and especially state highways has shot up again – while the tiny and already decreased funding for walking and cycling has been cut even further.

In what’s becoming a pattern for this government’s approach to transport, the final GPS seems to have simply steamrollered over the evidence, the local concerns about misplaced priorities, and also the pragmatic concerns about how this stuff works in the real world.

It’ll be really interesting to see the summary of public feedback, when it appears in due course.

GPS vs RLTP: the gap between theory and practice

So, what does this finalised government policy statement mean in practice for a city like Auckland?

As it happens, while the final GPS was landing, the Regional Transport Committee (RTC) was hard at work, hearing submissions on the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).

The RLTP sets Auckland’s transport priorities for the next decade, and needs to be finalised over the next few months. It’s both a to-do list and a funding bid. And, by law, it is required to “be consistent with” the GPS. (Interestingly, Auckland has previously found some wiggle room on this point – ironically, by fending off a judicial challenge on the worrying climate implications of the last RLTP).

So the people in charge of finalising the RLTP face a challenge: as well as budgeting and prioritising a whole lot of projects, they’ll be threading the needle between a) what Aucklanders tell them they actually want and need, and b) what Simeon Brown (also an Aucklander) is telling them they’re permitted to do.

On top of that, Auckland Council has already expressed grave concerns about what the GPS means for our city. And, as highlighted by Connor’s post last week: there’s a paradox embedded in the prioritisation process for Auckland’s transport projects.

Turns out, when you rank projects according to the benefits of investment, top of the list are projects that move people efficiently, can be finished quickly, help complete networks, and decarbonise our transport system. Basically, Auckland computer says yeah: go hard on active modes, public transport, and fixing local roads… and hold the cannoli/ state highways.

This largely accords with what Aucklanders say when asked: please fix our streets and give us more, better, safe and affordable ways to get out of traffic.

Unfortunately, the GPS and its funding buckets are out of whack with this direction of travel. In a nutshell: Government computer says nah.

That’s because it’s intent on pouring the bulk of investment into a few four-lane highways, aka More RoNS, and something it calls “pothole prevention” which is really (overdue) maintenance by another name. And the problem there is, this GPS also seeks to prevent cities from using maintenance funds to build back better with smart, dig-once, multimodal ways that can actually prevent potholes, enable greater transport choice, and improve resilience.

Moreover, the GPS rolls back a number of evidence-based safety fixes that Auckland is already seeing the tangible benefits of – from taming speeds to survivable levels, to letting people cross the street more safely. If it works and saves lives, this government doesn’t seem to want to know.

True, they’ve upped funding for public transport after a strong pushback from Auckland in particular – but they’ve also cancelled free and half-price fares for young people, and axed the ten-year targeted fuel tax for Auckland that would have supported alternatives to driving.

And as for investing in climate-friendly intercity travel, or alternatives to trucking increasingly heavy freight on increasingly fragile roads? If you believe this government gets the full potential of rail, we’ve got two cancelled rail-ferries to sell you.

Local needs, local voices

The gulf between local needs and the Minister’s notions was visible at the RLTP hearings last Wednesday and Thursday.

Many of the presentations were from Local Boards, with many remarking on the challenging time-frame as they took the opportunity to make a direct pitch to the people in charge of the RLTP priority list.

Local Boards are perhaps closest to street level, when it comes to hearing from constituents about transport issues. They work with Auckland Transport to (ideally) fix local streets, with varying (usually small) budgets, and varying degrees of success or frustration. Some little fixes are big wins; others remain unsolved despite years of advocacy.

So the Local Board spokespeople were threading the needle, too. They praised the good stuff in the draft RLTP, like the move to keep the Local Board Transport Capital Fund (LBTCF), a small but vital budget line for safety and active modes projects.

On the other hand, they highlighted the gaps, including many important projects that have languished for years or decades, always somehow dropping to the bottom of the list.

It was notable how many of the Local Boards came calling for more local investment in public transport, walking and cycling, and safety projects – reflecting strong local feedback on these issues. Several wished for smarter use of maintenance and renewals funding, to complete networks and provide transport choice. They homed in on first and last-mile connections. Public transport options to address transport inequity. Solutions to dangerous and congested local roads and intersections.

Mindful of the gap between government policy and local priority, they urged the committee to speak up for Auckland, and for the creative and coherent solutions that Aucklanders need. As one Local Board chair put it:

We urge you to push the government to support your prioritisations, which are also our priorities.

This was echoed by All Aboard Aotearoa, the advocacy organisation for decarbonising transport (which led the climate-based judicial challenge to the last RLTP). As they told the panel:

We accept that there are difficulties in balancing the requirements of the GPS and the RLTP. But there’s also plenty of room and opportunity to have a more climate-aligned RLTP, and it’s critical that you do.

All Aboard and Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand presenting to the Regional Transport Committee on the draft Regional Land Transport Plan 2024.

Below the fold…

Below are some notes from the RLTP hearings that give a flavour of what those on the ground want from the city’s transport planning. Note: this is a fraction of what presenters covered; it doesn’t include all who presented; and transcriptions are as accurate as we could manage in a live meeting. The formal Local Board RLTP feedback can be found in the papers for upcoming meetings.

Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board called for an equity lens to address the longstanding challenges of transport inequity experienced in their area. They were concerned about time-of-use charging, and keen for the A2B connections. They advocated for free fares, fare caps, monthly passes, anything that would make public transport more accessible and attractive.

They also urged the committee to “push the government to support your prioritisations, which are also our priorities. Otherwise AT and the government will literally and figuratively be leaving South Auckland behind.”

Waiheke Local Board asked for funding that reflects the fact their roads are also walkways and cycleways and sometimes horse paths, and that supports the island’s aspirations for modal shift “for which we have huge community support.”

Long Bay Residents’ Association asked for the East Coast Road/ Glenvar Road safety upgrade to go ahead; likewise the Vaughns and Okura Road project.

Hibiscus and Bays Local Board echoed this call, and noted the crash data for Glenvar/ East Coast Road, locally known as a dangerous intersection through which lots of school trips have to pass each day.

Whangaparaoa Local Board called for urgent delivery of a bus interchange, to make the most of Penlink investment: “If we do nothing, the project will not fulfil its potential to eliminate emissions and shift from private vehicles.”

Upper Harbour Local Board highlighted safety and active modes; and noted some projects that had been on and off the to-do list for a decade, like The Avenue and Gills Road Link, and safety upgrades at several intersections and Albany Highway.

Howick Local Board highlighted the intersections on Mill Road as the key safety issue; a realignment of Chapel Road to reduce crashes; and noted the importance of the Local Board Transport Capital Fund in projects like temporary gravel footpaths, where developers haven’t built permanent ones: “school kids are walking on the grass, and in winter it gets muddy so they walk on the road, which keeps me up at night.”

Manurewa Local Board called for more creativity about building bike lanes or shared paths on wide grass berms. They want to see the proposed rail corridor cycleway extend from Manurewa to Sylvia Park (!) and perhaps all the way to Newmarket (!!).

They also advocated for funding for a local link from the SH1 cycleway to Waiata Shores. which has a shovel-ready design and community backing. Both Manurewa and Papakura Local Boards support it, but don’t have the funds to build it.

Ōrakei Local Board cheered the Local Board Transport Capital Fund: “We’re glad it’s being retained and boosted. I think at street level you may not appreciate what this funding means: AT is seen at its best, working with Local Boards to deliver projects that are mostly about safety, mostly around schools.”

They also made a pitch for the Gowing Drive connection to the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive Pathway:

“This is one of the most impressive cycleways in the whole of New Zealand: a beautiful, magnificent, highly loved and impressive piece of infrastructure. However, it’s a motorway without onramps. You have 500 students in Meadowbank who go to Selwyn College and St Thomas across the valley. That’s 1000 trips by road that could be made via the shared path.

Yes, it’s very expensive; we acknowledge that. We’d like to see it funded. If it needs to be staged and needs to be a rough dirt track to begin with while the underpass is built, let’s do that. Otherwise we’re not fully utilising the $6m of investment we’ve made already, or getting the best use out of that path.”

Waitākere Local Board made a strong plea for climate, and for using the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway as a guide in shaping the RLTP. Among other things, they supported NW rapid transit and prioritising walkways and cycleways, “one of the most efficient ways of reducing emissions and addressing congestion.”

“We have a Local Board greenways plan, but nowhere near the funding we need to deliver it. We used to put significant amounts of LB Transport Capital Fund into it, but with the problems of recent years, that’s harder.

We appreciate that all these things cost money, and knowing this is not something you have control over, but: if we just cancelled the East-West Link, that would release a lot of money that could be used for a lot of projects.”

Henderson-Massey Local Board tuned in from a local public library, with a passionate push for cycleway projects, including the one on Rathgar Road that will serve five schools, and the Henderson Connections plan.

“One thing we’re grappling with: everything except for state highways was an equal priority for Henderson-Massey people. That puts you in a challenging position in terms of balance… I would posit to you, you’ve got to balance your longer term pipeline, against those shorter-term priority projects such as Rathgar Road, to be able to enable that longer-term infrastructure.

For example, the Northwest is gaining 30,000 people, and we’ve heard an argument to take away the Hobsonville link for the cycleway. Thank you for the busway, but that other link… we had to fight to get that back. These ‘little links’ are what enable best use of the big investments.”

Aotea Great Barrier Local Board‘s presentation focused on climate action, resilience against sea rise, decarbonisation, and charging for electric modes. They explicitly supported the continuation of the Katoa Ka Ora speed management plan, which was great to hear.

Whau Local Board in partnership with the Rosebank Road Business Association asked AT to take its direction from Te Taruke-ā-Tāwhiri, Council’s climate action plan. On their list: dynamic lanes for Rosebank Road; reviving the plan for New North Road, strong support for Te Whau pathway, and high-quality active modes connections like the New Lynn to Kelston cycleway (with six schools in a small area) and links to Henderson.

They noted that Local Board Transport Capital Fund often has to be used for “projects that could reasonably be considered part of AT’s work programme, such as essential pedestrian crossings outside schools.” Also: “If the East-West Link goes ahead, it must retain the active modes and environmental components.”

Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board raised a number of issues, including local access once level crossings are closed; better public transport options from Onehunga, and improvemnents to Penrose and Glen Innes train stations.

They made a pitch for removing the rail reserve designation through Onehunga, and for more park and rides: “It helps with getting cars off our road… we’re a car-centric society [so] getting people to drive to the train station has got to be a good first step.”

Papakura Local Board pointed out that transport is not keeping pace with development and population growth. As well as advocating for grade-separating railway crossings, their presentation supported Mill Road as an alternative to SH1, mentioned removing cycle lanes from Great South Road, and called for cheaper and more reliable public transport, including on-demand trials.

Kaipāitiki Local Board argued for local decision-making (with AT) over local networks. Renewal and maintenance of existing assets was strongly supported, including town centre footpaths, and footpaths and walkways in general. Also keen for bus and ferry improvements, Northern Pathway (walking and cycling) projects that link local parks, and a full-time clearway on Onewa Road. They noted the unsatisfactory state of cheaper chip-seal road renewals; and local challenges with parking and traffic management around attractions like the new tree-walk.

Devonport-Takapuna Local Board advocated for prioritising Lake Road – after 8 years and $2m, there’s no clear plan, with major implications for buses and active transport. They made the case the Local Board Transport Capital Fund should be allowed to roll over, so boards could save up for key projects that would otherwise go unfunded – like the Francis-Esmonde walking and cycling link.

They support lower-cost cycleways, but not a reduction in cycle safety projects – pointing out that lower costs should deliver a larger programme. Strong local support for a new harbour crossing, including active and public transport links; also keen for Northern Pathway to be funded and progressed.

Māngere-Otāhuhu Local Board had transport equity at top of mind: they “feel left behind at times.” They backed Ōtara-Papatoetoe’s focus on the Airport to Botany link, and noted they’d been “advocating for the last ten years for free public transport – with four business centres; this would enable local economic and social activity,” They agreed that the LBTCF “enables great projects”, and gave the example of a walking and cycling project for Walter Massey Park.

Puketāpapa Local Board noted that AT is “the part of council people have most contact with from the moment they leave their homes to the moment they get home at the end of the day.” A key ask was a safer design for the risky Dominion Road/ Denbigh Ave roundabout, which is busy with motorway traffic, freight, buses, and also thousands of schoolchildren.

They also want better footpaths to support the mobility of elderly residents, and prioritising footpaths close to bus stops as “a key tool for climate action.” They’re also keen on the Avondale to Southdown railway line being put to use for moving people.

Waitematā Local Board agreed with the top priority of investing in public transport, reporting that people in their area wanted it to be faster, more reliable, and more resilient. Resilience was a theme, with concerns about the harbour bridge, a call for smarter maintenance, and getting heavy port trucks off city streets to reduce potholes.

They support investment in active mode, especially a new approach to deliver the cycling network fast and cheaply and easily, and more investment in walking, especially for the benefit of elderly people. The must-do projects: Great North Road, a new harbour crossing, quality urban planning around CRL stations, and small-scale projects for active modes and safety.

Safety was a major concern: even with the change in government direction, “well thought-out infrastructure is also key to reducing risk”, and they support lowering speeds around schools and in town centres:

“Some of us know what it is to be impacted by road deaths…. The impact is life long. If you have to raise a crossing to save lives, then please, do it.”

They urge AT to be “be faster, more efficient, be tactical – don’t second guess, you are the experts, you have the knowledge, back yourselves!”

A final pitch for better placemaking, seeing streets are places to be, not just routes to travel through, drew a positive response from Richard Leggatt, the chair of AT: “I can assure you we take placemaking seriously – for example, GNR is going to tender pretty soon and I’ve seen the plans, and frankly it looks pretty cool!”

Albert-Eden Local Board’s call was for more strategic planning to give greater certainty, mentioning the local gaps now that both Connected Communities and Auckland Light Rail have been cancelled. They also wanted higher priority for mitigations around level crossing closures.

Another key ask: much stronger and earlier engagement with both the Local Board and local communities regarding any planned or potential transport projects in the neighbourhood.

Indeed, this felt like the key subtext of many of the Local Board presentations over the two days of hearings: nothing about us, without us.

Other presentations included:

Fletcher Living, advocating for safety upgrades to SH16 between Brigham Creek and Waimauku, asking for “consistency and a commitment to creating a safe transport environment” and noting that “fundamental issues around safety and congestion need to be addressed.”

The AA, which reported that, to their surprise, public transport was the top concern in a recent member survey – with 38% of respondents naming it as the key issue, ahead of congestion.

Geoff West, a member of the public, made a striking presentation in support of removing kerbside parking to keep people safe, whether they’re walking, biking, or getting in and out of cars. Citing recent tragic incidents, he said: “I ask you to act urgently on my suggestion… it doesn’t have to be carte blanche over the whole city, but you have to get started.”

And, All Aboard Aotearoa, the transport-decarbonisation advocates, who:

  • Encouraged AT to follow the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway: “Following the TERP would mean following what Aucklanders want in terms of public transport, climate action, safety, and support for active modes.”
  • Urged AT to remember its legal obligations, and seek opportunities to stay consistent with them: “A land transport system in the public interest is clearly one that is aligned with climate goals and climate targets.” 
  • Pointed out that while there are difficulties posed by the GPS, there is also “plenty of room and opportunity to have a more climate-aligned RLTP, and it’s critical that you do.”
  • Reminded the committee of the importance of equity, safety and health and wellbeing when building and governing a transport system for the city. First and last legs of trips should be fundamental to all planning; and, “Compassion, empathy, accountability are needed in a complete rewrite of the safety section of the RLTP.”
  • Advised a more integrated approach to directives like productivity and value: “While the GPS presents challenges, these can be overcome through strategic thinking – use maintenance/ renewals to build back better, reallocate road space, add safety and public transport… which will be not just environmentally beneficial, but also economically beneficial by reducing future maintenance costs.”
  • Recalled the flexibility around how “consistent” the RLTP needs to be with the GPS: “The Land Transport Management Act has had lots of discussion about what consistency means – there’s some flex there. You also have other obligations as directors, there’s some wiggle room there, enough for AT to test the waters a little bit and be a bit stronger. It can be an opportunity for AT to use this; I think there are pathways, and I’d encourage you to seek your own advice on it, as there are opportunities there.”
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  1. Epic read, thanks to whoever clearly sat through hours and hours of hearings to report on this.

    Given how extremely out of touch the government’s transport policy clearly is from what local communities and local representatives want, it really makes you wonder how long Simeon Brown can keep up his sociopathic transport policy. At some point surely it’s going to bite.

    1. It does look out of touch yet I heard Brown talk earlier this year at a function where it was clear he thinks this government’s transport policy will be a winner with the general public. Or at least it will be popular with the half of the population that may vote National.

      Presumably National has some research to back this thinking.

      It’s quite possible people say (or even think) one thing about transport policy in one context, and something different when asked to focus on local issues.

      Where I live on the North Shore, the local National candidate ‘s most visible activity is to complain about and campaign against the Onewa Road bus lane. That’s despite huge numbers of people whisking past the cars in buses every morning. He certainly thinks being against effective public transport is a vote winner.

      1. The government is relying on a shock-jock echo chamber in constructing its transport policies. It has the odd chat with retail business owners and Ranger-drivers, and thinks that is representative of broad community views.

        It’s a toxic combination together with the evangelical arrogance of Brown himself.

        The only thing we can hope for is a moderation in approach later, in a similar way to how Key overruled his Ministers to OK the CRL.

      2. Surely Bidois has stopped doing that? Even he can surely read the stats on how many people that lane carries per day. Was a key reason I would never vote for him

        1. He did it at least once during the recent election campaign*. Had people standing at the traffic lights by the Northcote Point turn off with posters saying “fix Onewa Road” In this case ‘fixing’ didn’t mean making it a clearway.

          And yes… it is bonkers. But he thinks it wins votes which could be just a reckon, but he may have some research that suggests it would be popular.

          *It could have been more than once, but I no longer commute in the rush hour.

  2. Although to be honest even Labour only paid lip service to walking and cycling in its GPS,

    Most of the stuff you talk about and lots of the very visible projects that AT and Boards were undertaking were being funding from the CERF, (ETS fund), through the “Transport Choices” budget…. [ Which National also canned]

    The actual amount of funding that has been removed is much larger than just the NLTF pot…

  3. Minister Brown does not have children, as far as I am aware. Therefore he has no idea how it feels to imagine losing a child. Last week my ex partner, with our four year old, was crashed into by a person on their phone driving a volvo on the Northern Motorway/ Clearly distracted by their mobile phone, driving alone in a heavy originally Swedish vehicle, built to plough snow. This person nearly caused serious harm to my four year old. On a personal level, just before Matariki, we we remember our lost ones, it was the most frightening time of my life. A Minister of the Government with no children could never imagine the horror of money being poured into roads so that trucks and cars can drive faster, to increase the chances of our tamariki being run down, in spite of our best efforts to protect them from harm. It saddens me, I cannot be angry anymore, only sad that despite saying we care about the future, this government does not care about my four year old boy.

    bah humbug

    1. Empathy and imagination do not require having a child myself. But those are sorely needed when making decisions about other people’s lives.

      1. It actually makes it more saddening that he isn’t more aware and understanding of children’s use of the transport system and things like accessibility for prams etc. However, it is quite possible that he is living in the same bubble many men of the prior generations lived in, blissfully unaware of such things. Or, being a well-to-do family, they can just afford to drive everywhere and choose to do that exclusively. Who knows?!

        1. I have a feeling he has never travelled anywhere decent. Or if he has, he got a cab everywhere. I really cant understand anyone that has been to Europe for example thinking the the cars only model is better.

        2. Outside a few cities, you can get around Europe very well by car. Most cities allow you to drive in and park conveniently close to your location. If you want to go to the countryside, the default transport option is still the car, even when (good) alternatives exist.
          And carbrains exist there, too. If you have never used public transport in a different city, it can be a bit intimidating (fare zones, special cards, line names, just unfamiliar, …)

        3. I think the default state of children is “they are locked into the house unless one of the parents can bring them out in a car”. How many people would just assume that apart from their private property, and maybe a few other designated areas like a mall or a playground, kids should never exist outside cars? It is kind of sad.

          (this is a thing for adults, but adults usually can drive those cars themselves)

          I am still curious what the statistic is for “people who have not left their property while not in a car during the past year. My guess is 25 to 50%.

    2. I’m sorry that you have had to go through that.

      Despite not having kids of my own I’m greatly disturbed by this governments pro death policies. As such in my feedback to the draft plans I usually comment along the lines that NZ and international evidence is clear that these policies will result in injury and death. Ministers should consider themselves directly responsible considering they proceed with the policies in direct contravention to the evidence, and be personally liable to legal challenge. As we already now hold business leaders personally responsible for injuries in workplaces they are responsible for.

  4. New Zealanders voted for change at the last election. Be careful what you wish for – the change is completely contrary to what Aucklanders clearly want. The government feels free to do whatever it wants to suit its favourite lobbyists, despite what the majority want – safe, affordable, accessible movement. Instead, the money all goes to making roads more dangerous or planning and buying land for “jam tomorrow” motorways.

  5. The previous government had the introduction of congestion charging / time of use charging scheduled to start in 2025 on the harbour bridge and around the central area.
    Its now kicked down the road a couple more years.
    We have an existing tolling system that I assume can just be extended for this use.
    What is it taking so long?

  6. In terms of politics National has over the years stressed its local emphasis- with some justification. But I noticed a trend during the Key -English years: the talk did not match the walk.
    Also I think the balance of List MPs under MMP should be restricted to a third- at most. The people pushing for local developments- as outlined in your report often need all the support they can get. That can be helped with support from electorate MPs who “live or die” in the electorate.
    I know many list MPs have been assigned regions or areas to keep an eye on but I dont think it is the same.

    1. No matter what local MPs might try to do, the legislation and GPS settings by Cabinet prevent any local priorities getting anywhere. Safe speeds on the streets around schools? Make them illegal (except for a few minutes near the gate). Local improvements? Sorry, not allowed to build back better for no or little extra cost when repairing roads. Complain to the Council who you’ve prevented from being able to do anything. Dan Bidois won’t get anything in his electorate except consultant costs on a distant future tunnel.

      1. I wonder if the council should just do nothing then. Instead of doing what Brown wants, do nothing and save the money. Surely he cannot force the council to spend their money increasing speed limits for example? Can’t they say “sorry we have a 0 budget this year”

  7. “They want to see the proposed rail corridor cycleway extend from Manurewa to Sylvia Park (!) and perhaps all the way to Newmarket (!!).”

    Yes, that’s what we need. A lot of local support for cycleways and connections.

  8. Saw on the Facebook the local Maungakiekie MP being all excited about the East-West Link. Not much positive feedback in the comments. Someone said it would be great as it would clean up the existing environmental problems, but someone else pointed out that surely we need to do that anyway? The reply was no, it would cost too much so we have to build the road for it to be financially viable.

    Does anyone actually believe this? Find it hard to accept that even people who think we should run the country like a business accept these massive expensive projects with bad business cases make any sense. I suppose the majority of people just living their lives don’t necessarily have the time to actually dig into the detail.

    I guess this is the reality of living in the post-truth world.

  9. One big flaw in Simeon Browns proposal to increase nationwide speed limits, most drivers lack the driving skills and reaction times required to increase their safe comfortable driving speed by another 30km/h to 40 km/h.

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