Clipper Card Transition for Bay Area Transit is Now Official

Haggerty_small.jpgMTC Commission Chair Scott Haggerty announcing the launch of the Clipper Card. Photos: Matthew Roth.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which sets the Bay Area’s regional transportation and land use policies, officially announced the transition from the Translink card to the newly branded Clipper smart card for transit trips today. The new blue card with eight white triangles replaces the older design but functions the same, providing a convenient method to pay for transit trips on most Bay Area transit systems.

According to the MTC, the new branding was meant to evoke a more playful, less technocratic image, and the name Clipper was chosen as a throw-back to the clipper ships of yore. The press event was held beside the square-rigged Balclutha ship on Pier 45, not a true clipper, but a stately ship nonetheless.

MTC Commission Chair Scott Haggerty acknowledged the lengthy delay for rolling out the cards, more than 8 years in his estimation, but hailed them as a convenience that would encourage higher transit ridership.

"One of the things I’ve talked about as being a deterrent to riding
transit is transit has to be convenient. I think now this little card
clearly will make it convenient for taking transit," said Haggerty. "No longer will you
have to shuffle through your pants trying to figure out if you have a
BART card, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit."

The public is growing more accustomed to using the smart cards for payment just as the new branding rolls out. Haggerty said there are currently 63,000 daily boardings using the Translink/Clipper cards across the Bay Area, up from 25,000 daily boardings one year ago. More than 100,000 people possess the smart cards, with many more expected as the publicity around them intensifies, and as more operators adopt them. SamTrans and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) are the two largest agencies yet to come online.

Celia Kupersmith, General Manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and
Transportation District, said 65 percent of her ferry passengers and 30 percent of bus passengers already use Translink/Clipper. She and other speakers credited the MTC for enduring the long process to bring the smart card technology forward.

"[The MTC] had the tenacity, in spite of lots and lots of problems along the
way, to stick with it. You stuck to the vision and you kept it going," she said.

Nat_and_bus.jpgSFMTA CEO Nat Ford in front of a special Clipper Muni bus.

Adrienne Tissier, the MTC’s Vice Chair and a SamTrans board member, said SamTrans was installing the technology to read the cards in all its buses, though they won’t be fully ready to accept them until the fall. Caltrain, which shares its executive director with SamTrans, already accepts the cards and sees 1,400 daily boardings, according to Tissier. Genentech also recently
introduced it to over 2,000 employees.

Tissier struck a hopeful tone about the use of Clipper Cards, remarking of passengers, "Once
they use it, they’ll never lose it because they’ll love how easy and
efficient it is."

Of her agency, she said, "SamTrans is
looking forward to being part of the Clipper Club."

BART Deputy General Manager Marcia deVaughn said 12,000 trips are taken each weekday on BART using smart cards and in a recent passenger survey 93
percent of users said they would recommend it to a friend. DeVaughn said BART was nearing
completion on ticket vending machines that would dispense Clipper Cards and the agency was working
with smart card vendor Cubic Transportation Systems on a Clipper parking option at BART parking lots.

Nat Ford, CEO of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), said more than 20,000 passengers use Clipper daily on weekdays, and more would use it soon. Ford said his agency was installing 100 fare gates in the subway system that would read Clipper Cards, and more and more buses and light rail vehicles are being outfitted to accept them.

"This smart but simple card will make transit more attractive to all of
our riders here in the Bay Area," said Ford. "There will be less
standing in lines and we’ll have a state-of-the-art
fare collection system."

Clipper Cards can be obtained through,, numerous transit kiosks and ticket vending machines and through Walgreens and other participating stores.

"It’s getting easier and easier to ride transit while I speak," said MTC’s Haggery. "Just
like back in the Gold Rush, Clipper is the fastest way to get around."

MTC_commishes.jpgMTC Commissioners Amy Worth and Sue Lempert show off the new card.
  • Jim

    And the rebranding cost how much? How much per card?

  • EL

    Ironic that “Trankslink” being too delayed and technocratic is now replaced with “Clipper” in reference to a slow, non-motorized form of transportation to promote transit use.

  • david vartanoff

    With the debut of “transyacht” we now have a second generation of the hugely wasteful and unnecessary cute card. Thanks for p#%&*@! at least $149 million down a rat hole MTC. The old AC/BART Plus Pass allowed riders the same sort of universal Bay Area transit access (except for a couple rider hostile agencies that declined to participate).
    So what does the new card do that the mag stripe passes couldn’t? Track our travel patterns so that when the system is hacked…

    Imagine how many recent service cuts the expense of this card could have stopped.

  • Peter M

    Are they going to mail new cards to those of us with Translink cards, or do we have to go and get a new one ourselves if we want one?

  • I like the new branding and design. It is showing up in many places overnight. But I think the fact that MUNI stop selling paper monthly pass in favor of Clipper card is a even bigger push of its adoption. Since there is no immediate obvious benefit people tend to keep doing the same thing they used to do. How many years does it take for Fastrak to get wider adoption? I think it is when the bay bridge change a large number of lane to exclusive Fastrak lane before people finally realize they actually need it.

  • @Peter: Our old Translink cards still work — it’s merely a branding change. As far as I know, all the mechanics are still the same.
    I was enjoying using my Translink card until I realized that for the agencies I use — MUNI and BART — there are still built-in incentives NOT to use Translink/Clipper. For BART, I can buy high-value BART tickets that give me bonus fare; as far as I know, this isn’t available for adding Translink/Clipper value.
    For MUNI, when they stepped up fare enforcement recently and added transfer expiration time to the bus displays where we swipe our cards, I started noticing the huge disparity between transfer time with Translink/Clipper (90 minutes exactly) and with a cash fare/paper transfer (usually at least 2 hours, and I find many drivers give “late night” transfers when I board after about 4pm on a weekend). I realize that the MUNI rules stipulate that transfers are good only one way and only for 90 minutes, but with paper transfers these are merely unenforced technicalities. MUNI could decrease boarding times and speed up runs by simply phasing out paper transfers — either by mandating use of a prepaid card (like Boston and New York do), or even just replacing fareboxes on buses with mechanisms like in the subway faregates, which automatically print out a transfer with a timestamp.

  • I very much like the convenience of my Translink card–it sure beats carrying around quarters for Muni. Our family also uses it on Caltrain and Golden Gate Transit. Some beefs: sometimes the reader on the 24 Muni bus doesn’t work which is annoying, and it’s a royal pain to get a youth version of the card. (We have to take our daughters with their passports in person to Market and Van Ness MTA office, but once we do hopefully they will be good many years.)

    I would like to know, too, if I have to get a new Clipper card or can I continue to use my Translink card for the foreseeable future? And I also think it was silly to spend all the money on rebranding since Translink is not an entirely awful name. Ah well.

  • MTC’s executive staff have directed somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million of your tax dollars in the direction of their very very very special friends in the consulting and ERG/Cubic mafias, all in the name of “smart card implementation”, but not to any sort of public purpose.

    Is anybody aware of ANY study, of any type, anywhere, that demonstrates that this “investment” will benefit anybody besides the consultants and contractors involved? This is a serious question!

    I mean there MUST be one, right? Nobody even remotely professional or borderline ethical would even suggest spending that much money without SOME sort of justificaiton, right?

    And no, a blog comment (or senile MTC commissioner digression) that “it’s great that I don’t have to carry quarters” isn’t a business case.

    So, does anybody have any suggestions?

    Or is this just Steve “$5 billion Bay Bridge overrun” Heminger and his cohort at MTC doing what they do best and do most often, namely systematic fraud, contractor enrichment, and screwing of the public interest, all done solely on their “staff recommendation” say-so?

  • @Richard, dude! I think it is you who need to justify your defamatory claim about MTC’s executive directed money into the direction of their very very very special friends in the consulting and ERG/Cubic mafias, …, without any sort of public purpose.

  • Sprague

    I agree with the sceptical voices. Translink clearly provides a benefit in making Bay Area transit somewhat more “seamless” but this rebranding seems awfully unnecessary. The expense of this could have instead been used to continue operating axed lines rather than going to marketing consultants, advertising agencies…

  • One clarification: When my BART value on my Translink card is reloaded, I do get the high value benefit as if I bought a paper ticket (they charge me less than the value I get).

    I’m not sure if Muni has it set up like a FastPass. It would seem that they would need to charge you a maximum amount each month, and after that your rides are free. Otherwise, as Sasha pointed out, there is a financial incentive NOT to use the Translink/Clipper card.

    I have had a Translink card for about a year now, and really like it. I do most of my commuting on BART, and I never have to worry about running out of money (since it auto-loads from my bank account). I also enjoy that I can ride AC Transit, MUNI, or other agencies without needing to worry about how much the ride is, or if I have the correct number of one dollar bills. I’m not sure if the card is set to give me transfer discounts (e.g. if I take BART to MUNI, do I get the same discount as a paper pass?), but it sure SHOULD be able to handle this (if it can give you exactly 90 minutes on your MUNI transfer, it sure can tell that I transferred from BART within the last fifteen minutes).

    There no doubt will continue to be bugs to work out (last week for the first time I had a problem with my card at a BART station), but I personally enjoy my card. I was opposed to the “re-branding” campaign, but it IS generating press, which will hopefully get more people aware of the card.

  • A lot of you are wondering, why did the MTC rebrand the TransLink card with Clipper, especially when the system works?

    I’d say, read my blog, Akit’s Complaint Department, but I’ll help you by giving you the brief story:

    From the MTC’s perspective, the TransLink name was not that whimsical than other branded universal farecard names like the Charlie, Orca, Octopus, and Oyster. Also, there are too many transit agencies using that brand name, including up in Vancouver where they are proposing their own version of the universal farecard. They wanted something unique, Clipper.

    From my understanding, there’s a need for better cards with a quicker response time. The TransLink cards worked, but it could be improved. They also realized it was time to order more cards as more agencies convert their paper ticket stock into electronic form, so they changed the cards to respond quicker and work better than in the past.

    As for cost, my calculations based on MTC meeting documents estimates at least 2 million was spent; a good chunk came from the Regional Measure 2 we voted upon, and some federal money as well.

  • Brandon

    @ Sasha, you can get a high value discount on BART with clipper, you can even have it automatically reload the HVD when it runs out of money

  • What a ridiculous waste of public funds …

    I agree the disincentive on using transclipperfabuloswhateva for MUNI is that you stand a good chance of heating a long transfer(ESP. In later evening hours) …. Then again, if you smell enough or put around with “trying” to find change for your fare, a lot of drivers let you ride for free it seems …damn, why di I have a conscience that disallows me from pulling such shit and Savin $60 a month.:)

  • I’m surprised to hear so many people think the rebranding as a waste of money. It is just marketing. Start so many years of false start, they figure Translink has become a tired brand. And they want put on a fresh coat of paint to give it some energy. Either you spend the money to do this or you can spend it on some TV ad. You really need to budget something for marketing.

    Think about the census campaign. The government spent tons on money on promotion. In an ideal world everyone should just comply willing without someone to tell them to do so. And this money is better spend on providing government services. But the world isn’t ideal. So the government set aside certain budget for promotion in order to ensure the success of the census effort. Marketing is not a waste at all.

  • Michelle

    While convenience is important for transit passengers in terms of paying the fares of multiple agencies, as far as i can tell, the Translink/Clipper card does nothing about the expense of using multiple transit agencies. Coming from Oakland, on AC Transit Transbay bus,the one-way fare is $4, and i believe I would still have to pay another $2 when I transfer to MUNI. OR even worse, taking AC transit local buse to BART and then MUNI on the other end, I would need to pay three fares, $2 plus $3.60 plus $2.00 Excuse me I forgot. I get a whopping 25 cent discount when i transfer between the buses and BART, if i remember the paper transfer. (which of course i dont have on my way to BART, only when i leave BART)

    This type of noncoordination between agencies is unfair to transit passengers and sooooo last century. See how they do it in Germany and Italy: one ticket let’s you ride commuter rail, the metro, the streetcar and the local bus, whatever it takes to get you where tyou need to go, usually limited to 90 minutes. Read some details about two cites at – about Hamburg – about Genoa

    I wish Streetsblog would do an expose’ on how translink/clipper really does nothing to address the real barrier to transit use, not the inconvenience but the out of pocket cost when you have to use more than one service.

  • vjulie

    Finally no more worrying if I have the right transit pass anymore! This will definitely encourage more people to take public transportation because now it is a lot less confusing and more convenient. With more people using the public transit, less will be taking their car which will have a positive impact on the environment. Not only do you have less to worry about with the use of Clipper Cards but you can also save money on your commute. With commuter benefits you can save up to 40% on public transportation! Go to and check it out!

  • A few clarification:

    Clipper does provide MUNI “fast pass” monthly rates so your Clipper card acts just like a MUNI fast pass (except you do need to touch the card to a pad to show it is paid up for that month).

    Riders transferring from BART or GGT to MUNI receive the appropriate discount on the transfer. I suspect that all intra- and inter- agency transfers are calculated appropriately.

    For more info on MUNI and Clipper, visit:

  • TransLink(tm)(c)(r)(sm) is simply a reimplementation of cash, with a cut off the top going straight into the pockets of the special contractors chosen by disinterested, professional and ethical MTC staff.

    That is all.

    There’s no fare co-ordination (or, God forbid, schedule co-ordination) involved. There’s no Verkersverbund in sight. What you buy in the Cubic-profiting glorious future is exactly what buy today using your US dollars: individual tickets from individual agencies. Progress!

  • @Richard and @David,
    I understood the cost of the rebranding to be $500,000 out of $2M for conversion to Translink. I’m drawing that from Rentschler’s comments to me for this article:

    Where are the big figures coming from, the $200M? Am I missing two zeros on the cost or are your figures based on all the fare media for every agency that transfers over or something else? If it is for all agencies, how does that compare to other systems that would be of comparable size? How much did Oyster cost? Orca, Charlie, etc?


  • @michelle: You make an excellent point. We have too many transit agencies! Don’t we just wish we can consolidate it into just one transit agency?

    And you are correct, there is no cost savings for the customer by using Clipper, it’s more for the transit agencies to reduce costs of printing tickets, passes, and transfers, and reducing vehicle dwell times.

    I do know a little project they are proposing which may be good for those who have to ride multiple agencies…

    The Clipper management board for many months have been considering a type of Bay Area pass program where if a passenger accumulates a minimum amount of transit charges within a 24 hour period, the rest of the rides are free, and regardless of what agency is used. It’s been months since I heard any updates on this idea, and I don’t know if they ever scrapped it, or will proceed.

  • Michelle

    Actually Akit,let me clarify: I am NOT suggesting that we need fewer transit agencies let alone one giant transit agency. What Italy and Germany have that we don’t have is a coordinating agency that makes them have a single ticket policy, share the fare revenues, and coordinate schedules. The Agency in Hamburg is HVV, in Stuttgart it is the VVV, in Turin it’s the ATM, etc.

    SO while in Milan and Hamburg, for example, they each have a city-run transit agency with a metro and local buses and one or two other modes in between (e.g. trams in Milan, ferries in Hamburg, and some cities have the occasional cog railroad or funicular, but I digress), there are still other transit agencies that run the commuter rail service and others that run the local bus service in the outlying cities (the hinterlands) and even express buses. But all these agencies’ services can be ridden with one ticket because they coordinate with eachother. (For the record, BART is the functional equivalent of commuter rail service).

    One big agency to run all 30 to 60+ transit agencies, in these two countries at least, is not their answer and I don’t think it is our answer either. They told me that local control is preferred because the locals know the local needs etc.

    I like the idea of a maximum transit fare per 24 hours, as well as a Master Transit Monthly Pass with which you can ride anything and everything in the Bay Area. How much would people pay for that?

  • @michelle: Hmmm, an all access pass… it’s one political hot potato, and I’m not sure of the cooperation with all the agencies and how much of the pie they would get. The problem is the price would be extremely high since some transit agencies passes starts quite low, while others like the ferries charge insane amounts.

    BART Plus does a half-way decent job to give unlimited access to multiple agencies for a respectable price, yet, it has been chipped away with AC Transit walking-out, and possibly Muni too.

  • thielges

    I tried to use translink/clipper for my hybrid Caltrain commute but failed to find value. Clipper is basically just e-cash. It would be better if it worked like London’s Oyster and whatever the equivalent is in other zone based cities like Berlin. If you take a multi-modal trip you should just tag on once and tag off once rather than the on-off-on-off… e-cash sequence when transferring. Riders should receive substantial discounts for multi agency trips. I think that this is not a technical but rather a political problem.

    Other problems I experienced were :

    – very difficult to use commuter checks to buy Clipper e-cash. My closest retailer is Walgreens and in four visits consuming nearly two hours of my time I never succeeded in loading cash to my card. This was due to employees not knowing how to work the clipper terminal or the terminal itself being broken. I did load the card at a different Walgreens (15 miles from home !) which also took a lot of time but did have success.

    – some Caltrain discounts are not available, making clipper actually more expensive compared to paper tickets. For example it is not possible to combine a Caltrain 8-pass with a zone extension on Clipper.

    There were some highlights to Clipper though. My favorite is that you can cancel your ticket and get an “e-refund” if you tag back to the same terminal within 15 minutes. This is great for aborting a Caltrain trip on their infrequent system outages. With a paper ticket, once you’re validated it is really a pain to get a refund. So if you think that the train might be very late, you have to station yourself next to the ticket machine/validator and wait until you see you train coming before buying/validating.

    I think that clipper has a chance, but they need to fix a few things :

    1) price fares on a true zone based system. This is an easy technical problem but a difficult political issue of getting different transit agencies to work together and divvy up the funds
    2) establish more retail outlets and make sure staff know how to sell the product.

  • david vartanoff

    @ Matthew Roth and all. When transyacht was first envisioned we already had AC/BART Plus. It was a flash pass for AC, Muni, VTA, CCCTA, SamTrans, and a BART ticket w/ a last ride w/o need to addfare. IT WORKED. agencies were paid based on some sort of accounting which they agreed to. But MOST importantly, it worked such that I could AC to BARt to VTA to go to SJ, take BART, then CCCTA to somewhere in Walnut Creek or Moraga, AC to BART to Muni, ALL w/one ticket.
    AND in the case of all but BART it was all you can eat for the two weeks. The ONLY glitch was that very few places sold them.

    So MTC went out to bid, the losing bidder sued, thousands of well paid staff hours were wasted developing procedures, and millions spent on card readers (which in Muni’s case were promptly vandalised) to implement a LESS useful system whose unique feature is precise apportioning of fares to each transit agency. However, that was a solution looking for a problem, every farebox sold has programmable buttons for drivers to indicate fare instruments presented
    As to procedures, after all these years of conferences, software testing, experimental roll outs, beta testing, AC is set up such that buses which carry both local and transbay riders cannot recognise local riders unless the rider requests the driver to reset the console. The whole point of this system was to speed riders onto the buses without the driver having to interact. Further, because this inability to handle local passes displays an insufficient money on card message it often triggers a demand for a cash fare from the driver. The rider who KNOWS s/he paid for the local monthly pass disputes the no funds, and in two cases when this happened to me the driver parked the bus and threatened to call the cops. I NEVER had that problem with the AC BART Plus Passes. If in turn I had used e cash the reader would have charged me for a transbay ride even though I was only riding within Berkeley.

    I forget, why was I supposed to cheer this program as progress?

  • Sprague

    Golden Gate Transit provides riders paying with Translink/Clipper a very attractive 20% discount. (The ferries also have a discounted Translink fare that may even exceed 20%.) Just don’t forget to tag-off when getting off the bus.

    The politics of compelling the MTC to require Bay Area transit agencies to offer much more substantial discounts to riders who transfer between agencies (using a Clipper card) shouldn’t be insurmountable. This important step would go a long way to making transit an affordable option for those who must use two or more agencies.

  • david vartanoff

    @ Sprague and all, AC gave a tiny discount for a couple months when they first rolled out transyacht.
    As to discount/actual serious fare integration, step one, force BART to honor AC monthly passes the way they do Muni Fast Passes. (ie, for all trips within AC service districts no extra charge) Step two, roll back “premium” surcharge on Muni Fast Passes, step three BART to honor GGT, and SamTrans monthlies for use within SF. step four, GGT to honor AC transfers/passes for the San Rafael to El Cerrito route. Step Five, VTA passes good for CalTrain within VTA service territory, Step 6 Caltrain return to honoring Muni FastPass within SF. Step 7 Muni Fast Pass honored on BART to Daly City.

    A couple service integration deals to make transit work better, Sam Trans allowed to carry riders NB within SF along Potrero after AM rush honoring Fast Pass. GG allowed to piock up similar along Lombard

    Yes, I understand these are highly idealistic concepts. If never suggested, nothing will ever get done. And, yes, I also understand that the various unions will shriek at the idea of OTHER fellow unionists from a different local “poaching” their work. Maybe someday they will get the concept that serving the ‘civil’ means just that.

    No I didn’t smoke anything today

  • Sean Z.

    Forget about the convenience of the pass and not having to worry about exact change, etc. think about our environment and all of the trees that will be saved by not having to print out tickets and receipts for the thousands of customers that use public transportation in the bay area every day.

  • Marilyn G

    The clipper cards that San Francisco switched over to yesterday for bart and muni is not working on BART today. I paid $70 for a “fast pass” for my daughter and it is supposed to work with both Muni and Bart. She had to pay for Bart out of pocket.
    Apparently many people are having the same problem because their phone lines and website are both jammed so you cannot even log in or get a representative all day today!
    Perhaps they rolled out this clipper card a little too hastily!
    Just thought someone should know.

  • I’ve used my new Clipper card for two trips. Clipper failed completely on my Muni adventure, and I had to pay cash. Clipper was merely glitchy on my second trip, on BART, failing to work at the first sensor I tried at both the entrance and exit gates.

    I had no such problems with Fast Passes or regular BART tickets in the past.

  • Flo

    Nothing works. Epic fail.

  • Morgan Manos

    Don’t use the auto-load for anything. This system is crap is continuously crashes and charges customer for products they don’t want. I have been fighting with translink for over a year now to get back money they stole from me. I encourage everyone reading this to ride for free anyway they can. Translink or Clipper or what ever they hell they want to call it, its just plain garbage.

  • robert

    here is copy of my email to clipper customer service

    i have just started using the clipper system and am COMPLETELY underwhelmed – the registration process is cumbersome, the ticketing is as far removed from real time response as possible, you still have to use the turnstile at the agent’s gate – the paddles that are now ‘gates’ are a lawsuit waiting to happen and the system was unavailable at least all day on Monday 9/6 and intermittent problems using it on Tuesday 9/7 – today is 9/8 and i have only been using it since 9/1. like most of these improvements – i hope whoever’s wife or kid of whatever politico that owns the company is enjoying those tax dollars shoved at them. i should have realized how LAME your service would be when i requested THREE times how disabled persons with unexpired RTC cards would transfer without any response – didn’t expect much and you certainly succeeded in making those low expectations were NOT met – i don’t know what kind of prize you get for that, but enjoy.

  • kevin

    DO NOT participate in Clipper until the Fast Pass becomes obselete. I wanted to purchase a Fast Pass on Clipper at Powell Street. The Clipper agent at the machine was extremely rude and begrudgingly offering guidance to those of us that didn’t know what we were doing. His exact words were, ‘This isn’t even my job, go get the Muni Agent’ which I did. She told me she wasn’t budging and that he worked for Clipper, deal with him. Back to him I went, he told me I wouls NOT get a Fast Pass put on–watched me as I selected the 60 dollar option–end of transaction.
    Now, everytime I use Clipper it deducts 2 dollars per ride. While company representatives were very sympathetic, nothing was resolved.

  • SFwriter

    Regarding the posts about Cubic, the consulting firm that runs Clipper. YES they are extracting a LOT of money through their administrative control of Clipper.

    I recently discovered that Clipper/Cubic is charging employer-based transit programs VERY high fees in order to use the Clipper auto-pay system. Each Clipper registered employee in an employer-based program pays $3 per month regardless of how much their auto-deduct amount is, or even if they use the service at all. What this means for my office with only forty Clipper Card Users is $1440 per year in fees going directly to Cubic/Clipper (NOT MUNI, BART or CALTRAIN). This is the administrative fee that Cubic is getting from one small office per year. Last time I was charged to use a debit card it was 50 cents, NOT $3. Last time I checked the auto-pay option for individuals for Clipper re-fills was free.

    You can read the details of what I call the “Cubic Fee Extraction Agreement” on-line here:;jsessionid=h+K-To2Q6752g42+SkQqfw**)

    No one at Clipper/Cubic has returned my calls about these fees– it’s been several weeks and at least ten phone calls. So, make your own conclusion about how Clipper/Cubic is benefitting from the switch to Clipper cards.


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