We spent much of last week concerned about the most recent round of Second Ave. Subway delays, and in doing so, a potentially explosive story concerning New York City Transit slipped through the tracks. According to a report in the Daily News last week, Transit took a $1 million hit and jeopardized a strong position vis-a-vis its labor relations when it allowed potential worker health care contributions to lapse.

Pete Donohue broke the story last week:

The transit workers contract reached after the December 2005 bus and subway strike allowed management for the first time to make paycheck deductions to help defray soaring expenses. The rate – 1.5% of earnings – went into effect retroactively for 2006. It could be increased annually and was bumped up to 1.53% for 2007.

While health care expenses continued to escalate for the agency, NYC Transit managers opted not to hike the contribution rate for 2008. Instead, transit brass agreed with Transport Workers Union Local 100’s interpretation of the contract on how to determine if contributions should be increased or kept flat.

The decision has raised eyebrows inside and outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interim MTA Chief Executive Officer Helena Williams was concerned last month after learning NYC Transit, the main subway and bus division, didn’t increase the contribution rate, a statement released by MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said. Williams asked the MTA auditor to do a “full review.”

“Ballooning health care costs are putting enormous pressure on the MTA’s budget, and escalating employee contributions are critical to defraying these costs,” Williams said.

According to union leaders, Transit officials were concerned that they would lose on the issue in arbitration. With relations between the union and the MTA so tenuous as late, Transit reportedly did not want to risk pushing the issue.

The next day, former MTA Chair Peter Kalikow expressed his outrage over the news. “What did we go through a strike for?” he said to Donohue. “So we could give it back to them? It’s outrageous.”

On Friday, the Daily News editorial board called Transit President Howard Roberts a subway sellout. “He must be held accountable,” they wrote while Kalikow chimed in with his own op-ed. He called it a “shady deal” and claimed that the union “has wormed its way out of paying anything for health care.”

I’m not so sure I can get that worked up about this announcement. Roberts’ decision will probably cost the MTA around $1 million and may cost them up to $4 million, if everything goes wrong. Meanwhile, any improvement in labor relations could save the MTA far more than that.

As I’ve written about this year, the MTA has some serious labor problems. They are beholden to a very generous pension plan with escalating costs threatening to get out of hand. This health care story is hardly worth the trouble. Maybe another contractual interpretation would have bolstered the MTA’s position, but maybe it wouldn’t have. Perhaps I don’t see why ex-MTA officials are so up in arms, and as interim MTA head Helena Williams looks into this issue, I doubt she’ll find much.

Categories : TWU
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We start off our weekly jaunt through the service advisories with a news stories about a semi-permanent service change along my subway line — the B — in Brooklyn.

A long time ago, back in December of 2007, I warned of the MTA’s plans to renovate seven stations along the BMT Brighton Line. At the time, the MTA unveiled timelines and the corresponding service changes for only the Ave. U and Neck Road rehabs.

Now, we find out that the other five stations in line for overhauls will see their projects start in September. As such, the B will no longer run express through Brooklyn. Heather Haddon reports:

Express service on the B line will be eliminated north of King Highway for two years beginning September in order for the MTA to work on overhauling five stations that have been neglected for decades, transit officials said. Local trains will run on express tracks but will not skip the six stops the express currently bypasses.

Running the trains local will add up to seven minutes to straphangers’ commutes and cost the MTA $960,000 for the additional local service, according to transit documents. “It’s never a good time for this,” said Doris Ortiz, district manager for Community Board 14 in Brooklyn. “It’s an inconvenience, but it’s worth it.”

The Avenue H and Avenue M stations also will be closed on alternating sides during the two years, and riders will have to take shuttle buses on weekends during part of the work.

Since I get on at Seventh Ave., I won’t be too impacted by the change. My B train in the morning can’t really be more crowded than it already is. For those who rely on the B for a speedy ride home though, this is dismaying news.

Now, onto the weekend changes. As always, these are coming to us from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Pay attention to the signs in the stations as you travel and be sure to listen for on-board announcements.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, there are no 2/4 trains at Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza, and Eastern Parkway due to switch work near Eastern Parkway. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Customers may transfer between the shuttle bus and 2/3/4 trains at Atlantic Avenue or Franklin Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Manhattan-bound 2 trains run express from Gun Hill Road 2 to East 180th Street due to structural steel repairs between East 180th Street and Dyre Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, uptown 4 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to construction of the Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, the last stop for some Brooklyn-bound 4 trains is Bowling Green due to structural steel repairs between East 180th Street and Dyre Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, there are no 5 trains running due to structural steel repairs between East 180th Street and Dyre Avenue. The 2/4 and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to construction of the Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to 3rd Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, July 26, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, and 82nd Streets due to station painting at Junction Boulevard.

From 5 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, July 26, there are no 7 trains between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza due to rail replacement at 45th Road-Court House Square. The N and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, there is no C service due to Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector. A trains replace the C making local stops between 168th Street and Jay Street and F trains replace the C between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn-bound D trains skip DeKalb Avenue and run express from Pacific Street to 36th Street due to track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Manhattan-bound E/F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Jamaica-bound E/F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, F trains run between Jamaica-179th Street and the Euclid Avenue C station. G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector. (From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, G trains are extended to the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue F station.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 4:30 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 10 p.m. Sunday, July 26, there are no L trains between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Parkway due to switch renewal north of Atlantic Avenue. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn-bound N/Q trains run on the R line from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to a track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and Pacific Street due to a track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Highway due to Brighton Line station rehabilitation.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Wanted: A few good bloggers · I’m going to be out of the country starting on Monday, July 27 returning on Friday, August 7, and while I am away, I will limited access to the Internet. I have a guest blogger lined up for the end of next week, but I am currently looking for some guest contributors for the week of August 3. If anyone is looking to share their news and views on transportation in New York City and the subways, please contact me or leave a comment here with a valid e-mail address in the e-mail field. Anything help would be greatly appreciated. · (2)

Seven months ago, bus driver Edwin Thomas was murdered when he refused to give a free transfer to someone who had paid his fare. At the time, the MTA promised increased safety measures for very vulnerable bus drivers. Yet, as Heather Haddon detailed in amNew York earlier this week, those measures have yet to arrive.

Writes Haddon:

Nearly 180 bus drivers were injured between July 2008 and June 2009, almost double the previous year, according to the union’s data. But figuring out a fix hasn’t proved so easy, leaving drivers at risk and causing delays for passengers when an incident forces a bus out of service.

NYC Transit experimented with partitions on buses running in Brooklyn earlier this year, but drivers said they caused glare from sun reflecting into the mirrors, Watt said.

Transit hopes to move ahead with the partitions but has not determined a final design, said spokesman Charles Seaton. Officials did not provide a timetable.

Bus systems in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have already installed plastic partitions to protect drivers where they sit and have received mixed reviews. Los Angeles bus officials said drivers found the partitions confining and hot. “We should expect some level of protection,” said Israel Rivera, a Bronx bus driver and union activist. “We come to work and wait to be assaulted again.”

And so the drivers wait. They wait for something bad to happen, and they wait for the proper protective measures. What will come first?

Categories : Buses
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As this week of bad news for the Second Ave. Subway draws to a close, we return again to a question of transit on the Upper East Side? As they do every time another SAS delay is announced, Streetsblog advocated for a BRT solution to the Second Ave. problem. But is that a realistic replacement for a full Second Ave. subway?

In rehashing their BRT argument for Second Ave. — one they explored in February — Ben Fried and Streetsblog made a rather bold claim. “On the east side of Manhattan,” Fried writes, “the right BRT configuration would carry almost as many commuters as the Second Avenue Subway, for a fraction of the cost.”

The Overhead Wire jumped all over this one. Pantograph Trolleypole, the pseudonymous author of TOW, did not believe this Streetsblog claim to be an accurate statement. While calling the BRT option “inferior transit,” the Wire levels this charge:

For a fraction of the cost you get a fraction of the ridership and a fraction of the service. How many buses and how many Union wages would it take to get that level of service? Let’s all imagine how much it would cost operationally to carry ~7 million daily subway riders on buses every day in addition to the 2.3 million people that already ride buses in New York. Let’s see what kind of a city New York would be without the Subway. There is a specific crowding issue that needs to be addressed on the east side and if you amortize that $5 billion over the lifetime of the tunnels it is well worth the investment over centuries of use.

Forgetting the seven million figure, let’s look at some real numbers. According to the Second Ave. Subway environmental impact statement, the MTA estimates that 200,000 riders a day will use just Phase I of the new line. When — or if — the whole line is completed, the MTA believes that 500,000 a day will rely on some part of the Second Ave. Subway. Some of those will be new riders while others will be eschewing the overcrowded Lexington Ave. line for an emptier, more convenient train.

Let’s assume that, for a bus-rapid transit lane on Second Ave., the MTA uses the current high-capacity ride in its fleet. The articulated buses can fit 145 passengers. To meet the demand of just 200,000 passengers, the MTA would have to run around 58 buses per hour for 24 hours. Simply put, that’s impossible. To cover even half of the projected 200,000 for Phase I, the MTA would have to run a bus every two minutes throughout the day. We can’t even consider meeting the 500,000 projected number for a full line.

In the end, bus-rapid transit along Second Ave. probably should be implemented but not as a replacement for a subway. It should be implemented because it will cut down on the space available to cars and eliminate drivers while encouraging mass transit. It will provide an area of the city not too near a subway with a better option than the 4/5/6. But as the numbers show, BRT cannot replace a subway line. It can’t meet the demand, and it can’t do what the MTA wants the Second Ave. Subway to do.

As the city grows and the current subway system reaches capacity, we need to add transit options that allow for this expansion. While far more expensive, a subway can service more people than BRT. That’s what we need along Second Ave.

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While we’ve been busy covering the wall-to-wall news concerning the delayed Second Ave. Subway, another important transit story has cropped up as well. As The Times detailed today, a Long Island native who joined Al Qaeada last year supplied sensitive transit information to the terrorist network.

He also told Brooklyn federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents about discussions he had with operational planners from Al Qaeda about a plot to blow up a Long Island Rail Road train inside Pennsylvania Station, according to several law enforcement officials.

The information prompted a flurry of security activity over the Thanksgiving holiday as the authorities scrambled to take extra precautions, though it did not appear the planned attack had yet been put into motion.

The slight, dark-haired and pale-skinned Mr. Vinas, who the officials said began formally cooperating with federal authorities about two months later, also admitted assisting Al Qaeda by providing ?expert advice and assistance? that was ?derived from specialized knowledge of the New York transit system and the Long Island Rail Road,? according to the court papers.

Two officials said that Mr. Vinas, who lived in Patchogue until he went to Pakistan, learned about the Long Island Rail Road as a regular rider and shared that information with Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, who had planned to use it in an attack. But neither official would provide specifics, and it appeared that Mr. Vinas?s knowledge of details of the planned attack may have been limited. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

In the end, thankfully, nothing happened during the Thanksgiving period, and the FBI says everything is under control. This revelation though returns the spotlight to the oft-ignored issue of the security of our transit infrastructure.

For their part, the MTA, part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, acknowledged being in ” in constant communication with local and federal authorities as the investigation involving Bryant Neal Vinas developed,” according to a statement released earlier this week. “There was never an imminent threat to the system,” said the agency. “The security of our entire transportation network and the safety of our customers continue to be the MTA’s top priorities.”

No one is sure how Vinas, never an employee of the MTA or its vendors, received his information, and The Times and other news outlets did not reveal the nature or extent of the information revealed. The Daily News claims that Vinas provided information on New York City Transit as well but knew nothing more than any other commuter.

While we bemoan a lack of closed-circuit cameras and the porous nature of the subway system, the threat out there can be very real, and law information officials are working to guard our infrastructure. That, by itself, is far more comforting than random bag searches, constant “important messages from the NYPD” and the ever-ubiquitous “If you see something, say something” campaign.

Categories : Subway Security
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As the Upper East Side comes to grips with news of massive delays for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway, everyone is feeling the sting. Homeowners and tenants now face the threat of construction for the better part of the next nine years; businesses are trying to cope with the mess; and even the real estate industry — a prime beneficiary of a new subway line — is suffering through some subway-inspired problems.

We start with real estate. Writing for The Real Deal, Sara Polsky explores how the construction delays are impacting the already-slow Upper East Side market. Brokers are concerned that the constant construction and increasing delays present short-term challenges to the area that could easily deter would-be buyers. She writes:

Between now and whenever the subway is completed, said Halstead Property Senior Vice President Rena Goldstein, it could be difficult to interest buyers in Upper East Side properties east of Third Avenue. Goldstein said she chose not to show one Second Avenue apartment in the 70s to buyers searching for a pied-à-terre because she knew they didn’t want to live near construction for the next seven or eight years.

“It’s going to be a lot harder to sell property [on the Upper East Side]… it’s going to be like that for a long time.” The construction will likely mean fewer customers for local businesses, leading some to close, she said — another negative for prospective residents. “When stores start to become empty, then it impacts negatively on the community around it and …on the value of apartments.”

While other real estate agents disagreed with Goldstein and noted that a new subway line would dramatically increase values along avenues that are currently far from transit, these brokers were concerned about the eventual overall fate of the project. Polsky details:

One concern for potential buyers as the project is delayed, [Kathy] Braddock the consultant said, is whether it will be finished at all. If the city’s finances make it impossible to complete the project, a hole in the ground, “no matter what the price [of real estate], would be a deterrent,” she said. And some buyers might expect discounts now because of the construction’s expected impact on the neighborhood.

But once the subway is completed, [Asher ] Alcobi said it will boost prices in the area significantly and could have a wide-ranging impact on city real estate. Wall Street employees might relocate uptown from the Financial District, and subway access to East Harlem could improve development there, Alcobi said. And buyers who previously refused to look east of Third Avenue will broaden their horizons, Halstead’s Goldstein added, noting: “the far East Side will come up in value.”

Right now, though, the uncertainty of the project is leaving more than just real estate values in flux. Business is suffering as well. Tom Topousis and Perry Chairamonte of The Post talked to some of the small business owners along Second Ave. in the 90s, and none of them were too happy with the delays.

Ruffino Lubis of Kim’s Shoe Repair sounded concerned over the future of his business. “We’ve lost 50 percent of our business since this started. My customers can’t park anywhere,” Lubis said. “It’s going to be pretty desperate. I worry that we can’t stay open.”

While it doesn’t really matter that shoe repair customers on the Upper East Side can’t park anywhere, the bigger issue is access. With the avenue a perpetual construction zone, sidewalk access is severely limited, and foot traffic has disappeared. Once the tunnel-boring machines are in and the MTA can cover up the hole, pedestrian traffic and business should pick up. For now, though, these never-ending delays are slowly choking a neighborhood.

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While on Monday the MTA warned that the Second Ave. Subway may not be open until 2017, the Federal Transit Authority is far more pessimistic. In fact, the Feds’ worst-case scenario has Phase I of the new subway line wrapping up in mid-2018 and for a cost of over $5.7 billion, a potential 30 percent increase over the MTA’s current budget projections.

Yesterday morning, the MTA Board’s capital construction committee met to discuss the state of the authority’s current big-ticket items. Foremost on the agenda was the oft-delayed Second Ave. Subway, and the news was not good. In a presentation of a yearlong study focusing on the Second Ave. Subway, the MTA had determined that the project has been mismanaged and under-projected. In a similar study, the FTA believed that the MTA’s adjusted projections could be far too optimistic.

The graph above — click here to enlarge — tell the story. Heather Haddon of amNew York first sent it to me when I e-mailed her about her story. Michael Grynbaum and The Times has made the full eight-page presentation avaliable on Scribd.

The story is simple: The MTA has been unable to meet any of its self-imposed deadlines, and it now faces the prospects of massive cost overruns and a six-year delay in delivering Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. Original plans called for the entire line to be constructed by 2020. That is but a pipe dream right now.

The FTA numbers are alarming. The MTA is budgeting for an expected cost of $4.451 billion with a high end of $4.775 billion. The FTA believes a low budget estimate to be $4.978 billion with an August 2017 completion date. The federal government’s high end is $5.728 billion — over $1 billion more than the current MTA estimate — with a June 2018 opening date.

Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, grew defensive during Wednesday’s meeting. He claimed that the federal government had “made different assumptions,” but as you can see, these high FTA estimates as presented by the MTA were already scrubbed of the potential rolling stock costs. He also claims, as Pete Donohue reported, that “the latest delay is partly because the MTA broke up large construction tasks into smaller projects to foster more competition among contractors and lower authority expenses.”

In addressing the board, Horodniceanu made a few bold promises he probably can’t keep. “Our original schedules were extremely optimistic,” he said, later adding, “We will deliver. You can hold me accountable to our numbers.”

In June, Horodniceanu made a similar claim with regards to the Fulton St. Hub. It will, he said of that long-delayed project, be open by 2014, seven years beyond its original schedule but in line with the MTA’s estimates in 2009.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants an investigation into the delays. “I call on the MTA Inspector General to open an immediate investigation of what has caused this latest delay,” he said in a statement. “The people and businesses of our city deserve not an endless list of excuses and rising costs, but an actual subway that will reduce crowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and provide service to East Side residents who have not had trains for decades.”

As time moves on, though, Stringer’s words will be forgotten. The Second Ave. Subway, funded and under construction for not the first time in its tortured history, marches further into the future. As we turn calendar pages, these completion dates come not closer but ever more distant. When will this subway arrive? When will someone take responsibility for this monumental disaster, a boondoggle on the Upper East Side?

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  • FTA: MTA timeline, budget for SAS wildly optimistic · According to a report presented at the MTA Board’s capital construction committee meeting this morning, the Federal Transit Administrative believes the MTA’s timeline and budget for the Second Ave. Subway to be overly aggressive. I’ll have a full report on this development later tonight, but the FTA believes that Phase I of the new subway line won’t be completed until 2018 and could cost nearly $6 billion. The MTA is sticking with its estimated completion date of late 2016 or mid 2017 and a budget under $5 billion. · (5)

With little fanfare last week, the State Senate and New York Assembly passed a bill to reform the way New York State Authorities — including the MTA — do business. Ostensibly, the purpose of the bill is to create an independent budget office with a variety of powers over authorities, but I have to wonder if it’s the right type of oversight for the MTA.

Currently, the bill is sitting on Gov. David Paterson’s desk, awaiting action, and as The Times’ Danny Hakim reports, his approval is no sure thing. Governors, after all, can exercise significant power over state authorities, and the state’s top executives have been loathe to hand over any of their power to the (dysfunctional) legislative branch.

For now, though, the bill’s fate is neither here nor there. Let’s instead take a look at how this act — full text available here — will impact the MTA. Hakim writes:

The legislation would create an independent budget office with an array of powers over authorities, including the ability to issue subpoenas as part of investigations. Authorities would also be required to turn over financial records to the budget office.

Contracts awarded by authorities over $1 million would have to be reviewed by the state comptroller. New limits would be placed on the ability of authorities to issue debt, a major area of concern among financial watchdogs.

The legislation makes clear that those who serve on authority boards have a fiduciary responsibility to the authority and its mission. Spelling out this duty holds directors to a defined standard of conduct and is aimed at curbing favoritism and corruption.

The Straphangers Campaign issued a press release late last week praising the Senate and Assembly for passing this measure. The PIRG also explained some of the logistics:

The bill (Assembly bill 2209 and Senate bill 1537) would create a new Public Authorities Budget Office directly responsible for monitoring and reporting on the State’s public authorities. A similar agency in New York City (the Independent Budget Office) has helped hold City government accountable. In many cases, its agreement with the City has enhanced the City’s credibility. The director of the State Public Authorities Budget Office would be appointed by the Governor and served for a fixed four-year term.

If anything, this act sounds as though it would simply create another layer of red tape for the MTA and similar public authorities. I don’t have enough knowledge of the city’s IBO and its impact to assess how a similar body on a state level would function, but I believe the MTA needs a greater level of oversight than that offered up by this act.

As I mentioned earlier today, the MTA needs to be held accountable for its failures. That public undertaking needs to extend far beyond a rubber stamp for high contracts and a symbolic slap on the wrist by yet another state organization. How that potential MTA oversight board will look is frankly outside the scope of my expertise, but this state Public Authorities Budget Office doesn’t sound as though it will do the job.

Categories : MTA Politics
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