Are you sick of being stuck in Sydney traffic for hours? Are you annoyed about the near constant traffic chaos around Sydney airport? And do you ever wonder why there are so many cars driving through Sydney’s CBD?

The geniuses who designed this were more concerned with their Christmas bonuses

Well, what you are seeing is a general failure of transport planning by successive governments over many decades. Not since Dr JJC Bradfield have we had a true transport visionary in Sydney. What we get is an endless procession of so-called transport experts who are increasingly just free market fundamentalists having this delusional view that the market will fix all transport and infrastructure problems.

The so-called market in this case are those big private sector companies that just want toll roads so they can simply milk motorists for decades with ever increasing tolls. It’s so easy for a private sector company to build a toll road that barely meets the existing transport needs to just rake in lots of easy money until the toll road can’t cope anymore. Then there’s inevitable call for a new toll road with a new income stream to milk motorists.

Now before the apologists for those private sector companies looking to build the toll roads to milk motorists get too excited, there’s no doubt that toll roads can play an important role in an integrated transport policy. But before toll roads can make a difference there are several challenges that need to be dealt with.

First, toll roads are very long term investments and private sector companies typically work on a short term frame. Sadly, large private sector companies have become as short sighted as governments.

We know that governments tend to look at projects in terms of the electoral cycle and CEOs of large private sector companies may be tempted to look at projects in terms of the length of their contract. CEOs always like to think about their performance bonuses and because these bonuses are largely tied to short term goals, long term projects don’t tend to excite CEOs.

So we get a lack of vision on toll roads and transport policy generally because governments and large private sector companies simply focus on the short term.

Second, how do we fund toll roads in an environment of limited funds following the GFC and where big private sector companies constantly want record profits from each investment? The obsession by free market fundamentalists with the self interested “need” to make ever increasing record profits is just not sustainable in relation to many businesses and especially major transport or infrastructure projects.

Revenues from privately funded transport and infrastructure projects are generally stable, but are generated over a longer term to reflect the longer life span of the transport or infrastructure asset created. As a result, they don’t fit too well into the paradigm of ever increasing yearly record profits demanded by the stock market and the free market fundamentalists who control institutional shareholders.

And, of course, those executives who run the institutional shareholders are also driven by performance bonuses that require them to make large, ever increasing record returns from their investments and so that’s what they expect from the listed companies in which they invest.

That’s why we need more investment from superannuation funds and foreign investors. Superannuation funds have large pools of money that can be usefully deployed for transport or infrastructure projects for the benefit of the community and economy generally. These funds are given considerable benefits by the Federal Government and these funds should be required to reciprocate.

Similarly, foreign investors could easily be required to invest in transport and infrastructure projects directly or through investment vehicles as a condition of being allowed to acquire Australian land or assets above a certain figure. After all, large Australian landholdings or capital assets need to be serviced by transport or infrastructure projects and foreign investors should directly contribute to their costs.

And before the free market fundamentalists think that such a requirement would be ‘unfair’ on foreign investors, we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that foreign investors always pay Australian taxes as deals can easily be structured to ensure that minimal, or no taxes are paid here.

Above all, we need the vision of Bradfield who gave us the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the underground city railway all those years ago. In fact, we need to go back to all those other ideas that Bradfield had nearly a century ago for the transport needs of Sydney. We need to look at further rail links in the northern and eastern suburbs of Sydney and if heavy rail is too expensive we need to look at light rail.

There are just too many buses in peak periods along Anzac Parade in the Eastern Suburbs; Parramatta Road in the Inner West, and Military Road on the lower North Shore. Light rail along these corridors would free up lots of buses to be redeployed to the outer suburbs that are currently poorly serviced.

It was a mistake to have destroyed Sydney’s tram network given that an efficient and modern tram or light rail network can be capable of carrying high volumes of passengers at lower overall costs over the life of the network. Yes, the upfront capital costs may be higher with trams or light rail, but they can move a lot of passengers with fewer tram drivers and can be much faster in the right conditions compared to buses which can become part of the traffic problem, particularly in high volume traffic areas.

We also need to keep traffic moving and should consider extending clearway hours not only during weekdays but also to weekends. With less public transport during weekends, the level of traffic increases as more people use their car. It’s amazing how a few parked cars can create chaos at some intersections across the city.

And we need to build motorways properly and not replicate the debacle we had with the building of the M5 East with just 2 lanes each way. What a lack of vision that was! We obviously need to do much better and finish the network of motorways including the M4 east and the F6 extension.

Finally we need to keep as much traffic as possible out of the Sydney CBD. We have a cross city tunnel that’s under-utilised with lots of traffic streaming through CBD streets to avoid paying the toll in the tunnel. So why don’t we reverse things and make the cross city tunnel free and charge cars and trucks a toll when they enter parts of the CBD. That way the traffic that doesn’t need to go into the city is taken out of the city without charge and the cars and trucks that clog up the CBD end up paying a toll for the privilege.

Now surely that’s a market-based solution that will excite the free market fundamentalists? Or do they just want to keep the toll on the cross city tunnel and also charge a toll for entering the CBD? Surely, the free market fundamentalists are not just about gouging money from the poor motorist at every opportunity?

Where are the worst traffic snarls in your city, and how do you think they can be fixed? We invite you to broaden this discussion beyond Sydney to include your part of Australia.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

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    • Bill says:

      04:43am | 05/12/12

      Melbourne was the only city with the foresight to keep its tram network and it’s paying dividends today.

      Even now other cities are trying to put in small-scale light rail routes but they’ll never come close to our network.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:01am | 05/12/12

      Having lived in both cities, I have to agree with that comparison.  In fact, I often wished Melbourne’s tram system was bigger.

      Of course, the best solution to big city congestion is not to have to commute in a big city.  This is one of the potential benefits of an NBN; large numbers of corporate bodies will eventually be encouraged to work from home.  Those 80-story buildings we have now will become empty, as businesses realise the savings that can be made in not having to provide a 3x3 area for each employee.

    • Jay2 says:

      08:16am | 05/12/12

      Mahhrat, having spent a week in Melbourne I agree with wishing the tram network was bigger, it might keep those drivers off the road who must not realise a what “give way” or a “red light” actually means. Holy hell, I’ve never seen such blatant disregard for red lights and traffic rules as I did in the CBD that week. 
      Red lights on served as reminder to speed up and go through them before those other pesky cars start taking advantage of the green light.  The ‘give way’ signs are interpreted ‘everybody, I’m coming through, so ...GIVE WAY!
      What an experience! Maybe all their traffic cops are too busy combing the main highway for potential speedsters to police the city itself?
      In between feeling mortified, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in a car in all my life.

      Anyway, yes the trams were FANTASTIC, we wondered why Sydney did away with theirs and I think Melbourne would have significantly more traffic problems if it weren’t for them.

    • fzr560 says:

      09:53am | 05/12/12

      Wow Bill, trams and AFL. Everyone else really is camping out

    • Terry2 says:

      10:43am | 05/12/12

      Mahrat, you have hit the nail profoundly.  I recently visited some former colleagues in Singapore and was intrigued to find that three of the eight (one man and two women) were still engaged in financial services but now worked almost exclusively from home only commuting into the Singapore CBD for meetings and the like.
      The concept of the ‘company car’ has been totally superseded as the financial cost of acquiring a vehicle ( there is a quota type system requiring a Certificate of Entitlement)  the additional cost of obtaining a permit to drive in the Singapore CBD and the costs of parking have all exceeded the perceived convenience of driving. Of course, Singapore has a cheap,comfortable and efficient mass transit rail system (MRT) and cheap and plentiful cabs and this is the key to how to make it work.

    • Pattem says:

      04:37pm | 05/12/12

      @Mahrat, I’m in love with the public transport system in Hong Kong.  In a nutshell, something like 80% of the population doesn’t have cars, because: 1. they are so expensive to maintain, and 2. the public transport system is so good.

      With the rail system, any stop is the centrepoint of a satellite “city” (typically with a shopping centre “wrapped” around it).  The satellite city is comprised of high-rise residential blocks (typically 33 storeys high) and multi-storey shopping centres and single-storey businesses.  In a radius of about 1.5-2km you have 95% of what you need. 

      Therefore, trains are rarely more than a 15 min walk away.
      Taxis are cheap.
      Buses come in three sizes (Double-decker, Single Decker and minibus, which service corresponding road types).
      Buses run on a constant loop, so people don’t bother with timetables - you always know the next one will be no more than 8-9 minutes away.
      Trains run every 1-3 minutes.
      Some areas like HK Island, Yuen Long in the North West corner, also come with light rail.
      Taxis help cover difficult to reach spots (these are colour coded Green for the New Territories, Red for Kowloon, etc..)

      Cars are typically the domain of the wealthy and those who live in the back block “country-side” locations which are not so well serviced by the public transport.

      Australia should learn from this structure.  You could replicate this on a smaller scale with not such high density of living, and larger apartment spaces.

    • acotrel says:

      05:50am | 05/12/12

      I wonder whose friend owns the parking franchise and the taxi service at Melbourne Airport ?  The Baillieu Government is still avoiding discussion about a rail link between the airport and the CBD and country towns. It is a pity t hat more Australians don’t go overseas.  A visit to Hong Kong or London shows how public transport in a ‘most liveable city’ should be. Melbourne is simply a bad joke !

    • Fiddler says:

      06:11am | 05/12/12

      Finally we agree on something. Your last six words.

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:20am | 05/12/12

      The “taxi service” is a joke in Melbourne.  Mostly, drivers wait between two and three hours to get a fare that might only be going to Glenroy.

      While I felt bad for the drivers those times, there wasn’t much I could do.  Eventually I took to hopping in cabs dropping off on the top level - the parking monitor guys said that was okay as I explained I didn’t want to subject some poor bloke just trying to make his bank to a $15 fare after that wait.

    • iansand says:

      06:03am | 05/12/12

      If the present crop of transport “planners” had built the Harbour Bridge it would have been one lane in each direction.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      07:32am | 05/12/12

      I could not have said it better. Every one of our ‘plans’ to expand our infrastructure have been pathetic half-arsed penny-pinching plans that wouldn’t have even been worth the money.
      One can’t help but think the government are more interested in paying themselves to do infinite ‘feasibility studies’ than actually doing anything about our infrastructure.

    • Macca says:

      06:29am | 05/12/12

      Roads, particularly Tunnels, are a horrible investment for Private companies. Off the top of my head, the original operators of the Cross City Tunnel, Lane Cove Tunnel and Clem7 all went insolvent. It will be interesting to see how BrisConnections travels with the Airport Link.

      Frank, it’s too easy to blame Corporations in this situation when so many governments have fallen for the NIMBYs and election cycle policy.

    • Bill says:

      06:37am | 05/12/12

      I can’t believe that Sydney built a tunnel under their harbour which is only two lanes wide each way. Melbourne’s Domain and Burnley tunnels are three lanes wide each which are much better suited to handle our rapid population increase.

    • Onlooker says:

      06:42am | 05/12/12

      Without doubt we need investment in roads and infrastructure, it be smarter to get rid of middle class welfare and invest in something that will benefit us all. In N.s.w all the money goes to Sydney, leaving the rest of N.S.W to flounder on their own

    • Achmed says:

      06:49am | 05/12/12

      I hope my superfund keeps investing my money in things that give me a decent return and not in some roads that I will never travel on.  I go to Sydney once a year.  Thats because I dont get a choice.  Otherwise, I avoid the place.  Its a dump.

    • morrgo says:

      08:44am | 05/12/12

      Right on.  I am also getting sick of messiahs eyeing off my savings for their pet schemes to save select bits of the world.

      The best fix for urban congestion is a congestion charge - I suspect this belief makes me a market fundamentalist.

    • maria says:

      11:06am | 05/12/12

      You will do what the mob will decide what to do….. end of the story.

    • Dave says:

      07:12am | 05/12/12

      Yet another screed against “free market fundamentalists,” a term that is characteristically not defined.

      What are the behaviours that characterise a “free market fundamentalist” as opposed to a supporter of the free market? Does one need to support a massive authoritarian government with centralised planning to avoid being labelled a “free market fundamentalist”?

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      08:08am | 05/12/12

      I think that would be a fair criteria.
      After all, someone who would staunchly believe the private-ownership of Lane Cove Tunnel, Qantas and Telstra are big success stories that Sydney has benefited from, is someone who cannot think empirically and is indeed a fundamentalist.

      Private interests simply do not enhance infrastructure because there is no competition and they automatically gain a monopoly, and are free to gouge its users no matter how bad their service is because people have little choice but to use them. And typically, the only types of companies that need to buy infrastructure are the incompetent ones that don’t know how to make money without acquiring public property (except of course, identifying investments and convincing people to give them money for it).

    • Peter says:

      07:22am | 05/12/12

      Sounds like a great idea. However I doubt anything will happen until the boomers are gone as they are mostly selfish nimbys.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      08:00am | 05/12/12

      I wouldn’t say NIMBYism has much to do with it, as most of the proposals are underground.

      It’s even simpler issue than that, we need to have these things, but the government simply doesn’t want to do it and keeps pushing forward options that are either trimmed down to the point they would not even work, or privatized- which has been a repeated proven failure at great expense to the city at large.

      Also speaking of NIMBY (airport issue), we SHOULD be building fast rail to Melbourne- it is one of the busiest air corridors in the world, and the pressure taken off the southern suburbs would be immense (not to mention I would no longer have to sit through the rubbish of flying in one of our pathetic failing carriers).

    • H. Simpson says:

      07:25am | 05/12/12

      Monorail !

    • egg says:

      07:57am | 05/12/12

      Is there a chance the track could bend?!

    • L. Lanley says:

      08:50am | 05/12/12

      Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

    • hermano says:

      10:24am | 05/12/12

      But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken!

    • B. Gumble says:

      10:38am | 05/12/12

      But what about us brain-dead slobs?

    • Tatty_Anne says:

      07:30am | 05/12/12

      Generally I’m not out driving during peak hours but on the odd occasions I’ve had to use a motorway at those times, I’ve noticed that about 95% of vehicles are single occupant.  I asked hubby has anyone bothered to survey motorists to find out where they’re going (they can’t all possibly fit in the CBD) and what would make it easier for them to get from A to B and do they have to do it alone.

      No easy solutions, I know, but pollies like to make decisions for us without asking first.

    • ibast says:

      09:29am | 05/12/12

      This is exactly why motorcycles should be encouraged, rather than discouraged.

      They even pollute less and take up less parking at the other end.

    • VJR says:

      07:47am | 05/12/12

      Just back from an enjoyable stay in Sydney. My brother who lives in Maroubra had to meet us at Mosman on Sunday for lunch at 12.30 it took him over an hour to get from Maroubra to Mosman in what he described as shocking traffic after turing off the harbor bridge.  It was the same when I used to live in Sydney and first got my licence at 17 it was still terrible traffic back then and the spit bridge was just as bad.  So what’s happened in sydney over the past 40 years that I have lived interstate.  All the money that the state has generated and still no fix to Sydney’s traffic problems.  Where has all the money gone.  Judging by the way labor run the state for years it certainly didn’t do anything positive apart for looking after its mates.

    • Gregg says:

      09:06am | 05/12/12

      Forty years ago there would have hardly been anything but the Harbour and Spit bridges and in that forty years you have had enormous changes with motorways, tunnels, ring roads, interchanges and approach to the bridge etc.

      Meanwhile, the population has probably just about trebled and traffic density more than trebled and Sydney is a bit unlike a lot of other cities in that it has this marvellous harbour going up the guts of it just to complicate traffic issues some.
      I bet forty years ago that you would never have thought of western burbs going right to the Blue Mountains foothills or thereabouts either! , not to mention the south west sprawl.

    • iansand says:

      10:27am | 05/12/12

      I see yer problem.  Any journey from Maroubra to Mosman that involves crossing the Spit Bridge is definitely the scenic route smile  Next time your brother should duck off the obvious route and go via Kurraba Rd, like the locals.

      Military Rd is hell.  It will remain hell until the north side of the harbour becomes marginal seats, whereupon politicians will start to notice it.

    • Robin says:

      08:03am | 05/12/12

      Maybe invest in upgrading to a very good public transport with many more trains in peak hour at vastly reduced rates.  Less cars, less need for expansion or maintenance.  Would be good for all them green things too, you know - all that emissions reduction stuff.  Won’t happen.  Nor will trams in Sydney.  Oh hang on, we have that half arsed crap going to nowhere.  Yay for the planners.

    • the moor says:

      09:38am | 05/12/12

      It is not the planners that are the problem Robin.  It is the politicians because they are the ones who make the decisions on what will happen.  Unfortunately though they are too easily swayed into spending money on roads instead of public transport.

    • VJR says:

      03:33pm | 05/12/12

      Hello iansand.. Yes I didn’t make it very clear in fact he came via the E.D from maroubra and had an easy run it wasn’t till he turned on to Military road that the traffic really kicked in.  I have to agree with you about marginal seats nothing will happen till Mosman voters decide to vote Labor can you see that happening any time soon.  The spit is another story.  Thanks for the smiley. Happy Christmas.

    • Gregg says:

      09:25am | 05/12/12

      ” Well, what you are seeing is a general failure of transport planning by successive governments over many decades. Not since Dr JJC Bradfield have we had a true transport visionary in Sydney. What we get is an endless procession of so-called transport experts who are increasingly just free market fundamentalists having this delusional view that the market will fix all transport and infrastructure problems. “

      Crikey Frank, if you want to talk of planning and vision, should we not get back to basics and really take the blinkers off.

      Like for a number of years now I have every so often done drives from Queensland down to Victoria and as much as I have reasons to visit the south coast of NSW and eastern Gippsland I really do think hard about avoiding not just Sydney like the plague but even Brisbane too and it is not so much because of poor roads and there has been some marvellous infrastructure planning and construction in the past few decades.

      But mate, look at the population increases and just how many roads, bridges and tunnels you can have feeding into a concentrated area, the Brisbane Gateway and Sydney Ring road being godsends to some extent, not so much still at peak times and so what do I do if I am going to take the coastal route?
      I just steer clear of the cities at peak times and OK that might mean getting up a few hours earlier and if doing the Brisbane to Sydney run, deciding to cool my heels some along the way or even taking the Putty Road across to Windsor and using the Northern Road where traffic can still be exceeedingly light at even peak times.

      Do the toll roads have pricing for off peak and peak times and if not why not?
      Might be worth a try to see what impact it has other than catching a few speedsters trying to get to the start before peak time starts.
      Aside from that kind of vision, it is not just Sydney infrastructure and more so a much greater vision needed for decentralising in all our states.

      On the investment side, I suppose you just cannot help too many people being over greedy for returns but please, no suggesting our superannuation funds have to be the whipping posts for there are already so many superannuates around the country wondering just where their super has gone.

      At the end of the day, people need to realise that governments are just more full of promises and achieving very little more than anything else and anything you do get is a bonus so the answer is always see what you can do for yourself and if that means relocating or restructuring your life, so be it.

    • the moor says:

      09:52am | 05/12/12

      The first thing we need to get over is the idea that bigger and better roads is the answer.  We should be spending more money on the rail and light rail to get traffic off our roads. Where possible freight should go by rail, as it does in Europe, instead of on trucks which clog and damage our highways. Similarly commuters should be on trains and light rail instead of in cars.

    • ibast says:

      01:57pm | 05/12/12

      The problem is widening a road is a good short term political solution.  Dedicate the money now and win some votes.  Start the work and win some more.  When the work is complete the traffic flows a bit better in that area for a couple of years and that wins some more, then you are out of office anyway.

      The fact that in fixing one bottleneck you created 5 more, doesn’t matter.  The fact it encouraged more people to drive cars and the fact that it took money away from a real long term solution doesn’t matter.  It looked like you were doing something at the time.

    • jimbo says:

      10:04am | 05/12/12

      Hello Peter.  So you want your parents and grand-parents dead.  You sound like a nice, caring person.  Would dying with cancer do or would you prefer a car accident? You will accept the inheritance I suppose.

    • Jaqui says:

      10:09am | 05/12/12

      I have a vision, the vision to fix the problems on the roads.

      Let state governments offer incentives like scrapping payroll tax for employees who work three or more days from home per week.

      If you could remove up to 20% of the unnecessary traffic from the roads it would have a dual impact, one on the environment and one on congestion.

    • bananabender56 says:

      12:25pm | 05/12/12

      How about HOV lanes like they have in the US and other places - 2 or more people in the vehicle use the HOV lane - encourages car pooling (and people driving with inflatable dummies) Another good one was give everyone a free parking day a week (based on rego number or similar). For the other 4 days double the cost of parking. Again encourages car pooling. The Mitchell Freeway in Perth is a disaster - they keep building suburbs North of Perth but haven’t increased the number of lanes leading into the city with predictable results. Someone had the foresight to put the rail down the middle of the freeway but didn’t build multi storey car parks at the stations so people then drive. The trains are full anyway. Instead of pissing away the inherited surplus on tv’s and babies we should have built something our kids could inherit - roads and rail, not debt.

    • Graeme says:

      02:29pm | 05/12/12

      I was in Los Angeles recently and love those carpool lanes on their freeways. Especially at 8 in the morning when there’s absolute bedlam all over LA, with just 2 in the car you can travel a lot quicker than the mainstream. Not too sure that they encourage carpooling though, as there weren’t a great deal of vehicles using the carpool lane, just like Sydney it seemed there were thousands of cars with only one occupant. The locals in LA tell me their public transport is pretty substandard, bit like in Sydney, thus their desire to drive. Fix up the transport and half of these problems should disappear, although with today’s current crop of politicians, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

    • LaDiva says:

      12:57pm | 05/12/12

      Flew to Sydney on Monday for the day to visit family. It took 20 minutes to drive the 33km from our house to the Gold Coast Airport. Once in Sydney it took an hour for our taxi to get from the airport to Drummoyne - a journey of maybe 15km - and cost us $50 (which is still cheaper than catching the airport link train to the city and then the bus).

      And don’t get me started on Sydney airport. Our flight to Sydney was delayed by an hour because the plane was late in arriving to the Gold Coast from - you guessed it - Sydney. Our return flight was also delayed by an hour and a half, as were nearly all the other flights departing from the Virgin terminal Monday evening.

      My partner and I agreed that we made the right decision to leave Sydney for good.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:59pm | 05/12/12

      The problem with using super funds to build these things is the fact super funds have a need to provide year-on-year returns and also have payment requirements for their pensions and annuities.

      Infrastructure requires a lot of capital to be invested up-front that takes many years to see a return.

      A better idea would be to scrap all the useless hand-outs such as the baby bonus, maternity leave, FHOG and FTB. Then the government might be able to start funding things alongside the private sector. PPPs are about the only way these projects can happen but if government revenue is stretched too thin then it relies too much on the private sector that demands faster pay-offs.

      It’s better to have government provide most of the seed capital to get it off the ground in the first stage then hand it over to prvate sector to deal with the rest of the bigger stages.

    • Noisy says:

      01:09pm | 05/12/12

      The Harbour Bridge - built and designed so many years ago - 8 traffic lanes and 2 railroad lanes. Meanwhile the notorious M5 is only two lanes each way. I couldn’t agree more with Zumbo. Our government and private companies are so shortsighted that no optometrist in the world could help them. Forget about how they completely failed to account for a growing population when they constructed the ridiculous road, they are doing absolutely nothing to solve the issue!

      It seems fitting that reintroducing a tram system in Sydney will help to reduce traffic congestion by carrying more passengers but like Zumbo said, we still need to deter people who do not need to enter the CBD from doing so anyway. Perhaps introducing tolls in the CBD and reducing those in the Cross City Tunnel are a temporary solution that will allow a reduction in congestion whilst a long term plan can be implemented. The problem is - who is willing to look further than their electoral term and actually serve this great nation as opposed to serving their own campaign?

    • Jenny says:

      01:27pm | 05/12/12

      We have so many commodities while so many middle east countries have one commodity “oil” and they don’t have taxes.

      Where the bloody hell is our money?

      Please explain.

    • Pattem says:

      04:50pm | 05/12/12

      I remember reading (many years ago now) Barry Jones’ Sleepers Wake! where he questioned the fundamental inefficiencies of the motor car.  The whole auto industry and subsidiary businesses are anathema.

      Big cities should basically be built around public transport, with rail expansion matching building and population growth.  For example, the rail system in Hong Kong grew concurrently with the city, rather than the rail added post-spread.


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