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Self-Serve Car Rental 143

abb_road writes "Claiming 'Web2.0 values meet Brick and Mortar,' BusinessWeek is reporting on an entirely self service car rental company. Zipcar customers make all reservations online or using a cell phone, then use a card-key to pick up their car from the parking garage--no attendants needed. According to the article, one of the other important attractions of the system is transparency; the reservations system allows you to see exactly what cars in the area will be available at what times, and then reserve or adjust your plans accordingly. From the article: 'If the nearest Mini convertible is booked until 3 p.m., the customer might postpone plans by an hour to get it -- or decide the Mazda with a sunroof on another lot will do.'"
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Self-Serve Car Rental

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  • The idea sounds cool, but you'd have to have plenty security guards in something as 'auto'mated as that. Plus, what if someone hacked into the server and decided to "rent" a bunch of nice cars?
    • by Karma Farmer ( 595141 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:09PM (#15274169)
      Plus, what if someone hacked into the server and decided to "rent" a bunch of nice cars?

      What if someone in a monster truck drives over all the cars in the parking lot?
  • old news (Score:3, Informative)

    by dajak ( 662256 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:59PM (#15274100)
    We have this in the Netherlands since 1995. I've used it for years. You make reservations through the Internet or phone, and enter the car with your swipe card.
    • This company is at least a few years old. I remember seeing zipcars zip around the streets of boston for at least a few years. Its less of a "car rental" company as a car-sharing company- Rentals are hourly and only for program members. Its designed for urban people who only need a car occasionally. And as for security, the cars are GPS tracked and linked to the central database. The car only opens if youre the one who reserved it on the website, so they know who has it.
      • Re:old news (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dajak ( 662256 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:09PM (#15274171)
        The one in the Netherlands is called Greenwheels and has complete neighbourhood coverage in the major 40 cities. It works by the same principles, since 1995. I used to have nine in walking distance from my home when I still lived in Amsterdam. One of the most convenient features of the system is that you can decide to use it from everywhere. Suddenly need a car at work? Want to take the train to some city, and then a car to get to some village? I'm still subscribed to it.
        • Oh that would be cool. Being able to take public transportation normally but affordably and easily renting a car when you need one. In the US renting a car is a bit pricey, and public transportation is fairly unreliable. Maybe I could consider not buying another car if this sort of thing was normal in the US (at least in my city). Obviously doing it country-wide in the US is unrealistic because the US is massively large (we don't even have paved roads to all locations).

          but you have to subscribe to this serv
          • but you have to subscribe to this service? which implies, to me, that you pay a fee (monthly/yearly). even if you don't use it. I like to just pay when I do use something.

            The other disadvantage is that you pay a fee per hour for using the car, so it isn't really convenient for going into the country for a few days.

            The cars also aren't really fun to drive too. This is to discourage racing, I suppose.

            In my house we have one car for two people, and we both have a subscription to this service.
          • If you live in a larger city like Boston it's generally a pain to own a car.

            Chances are that most things are going to be in walking distance anyway and for most everything else there exists mass transportation.

            My friend had the zipcar service and oddly enough it was cheaper then my car insurance for a months worth of driving. (I'm assumming because he was a light driver)

            Being a non-city dweller it is tough to get my mind around the concept of not owning a gas guzzling beast, but it was very much my plan to
            • Well hiking and shooting ranges are generally not available through mass transit. And generally I can't make sense of the bus schedules in San Jose/San Francisco bay area.

              But I think the thing is that I'm in the same boat as you, I'm not originally a city dweller. So I have this sort of mental block about living car-less. It used to take me 90 minutes on the school bus to just get to elementary school to high school. As soon as I was old enough to drive I started driving myself, 90 minutes is crazy. the bus
          • Rates are different in every city. But for example in Chapel Hill []
            It is a yearly fee of just $20 and you get a $20 credit (good for a month) when you first sign up. They do provide a RFID card so there is some cost for them in your becoming a member as well. The cost is only $5 per hour and $55 per day (based on the faq they really mean OR $55 a day, but I digress)
          • but you have to subscribe to this service? which implies, to me, that you pay a fee (monthly/yearly). even if you don't use it.

            For the Dutch Greenwheels, the cheapest subscription (with higher hourly rates) is €5 per month, which is close enough to "free" for me. I wonder why they bother anyway.

            • Feel free to send me 5 a month. I won't do anything for it. But I will certainly buy myself lunch. If you could find 10 friends to do the same I'd really appreciate it.
        • Netherlands...major 40 cities

          Surely this is a typo!

    • Here the company is a consumers' co-operative too, so you get low rates and get any profits back as rebates.
  • by MrPsycho ( 939714 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:00PM (#15274106)
    This Evaluation of ZipCar 8.0 has expired. Please purchase the full version. Press your horn to continue.
  • Wouldn't it be cool if they took it a step further and copied Blockbuster's "No Late Fees" policy? ^^
  • But... (Score:2, Insightful)

    ...who's going to to try to press you to pay an extra $20/day for the rip-off supplemental insurance on this plan?
    • It's only a ripoff if you don't drive the car through the front window of the nearest Walmart.
      • I've never seen a Walmart with a front window, but the last time I rented a car I asked what the supplemental insurance covered (since my regular car insurance covered me while using the rental car) and the reply was that it insured me against having to pay my $500 deductable. I thought about for ten seconds, and concluded that if it made sense to pay $20/day to avoid a $500 deductable in case of an accident, then it should make equally as much sense to pay one's regular insurer over $7000 extra per year t
    • Re:But... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 )
      Actually, I like the supplemental insurance. Like all "insurance", it's really great if something bad happens. Since something bad generally doesn't happen, it's a rip-off.

      But I'll get it when I'm driving in Vermont at Christmastime just because I've forgotten everything I ever knew about driving in snow because I spend the other 11.5 months of the year in Southern California. I'll also occasionally get it if I'm renting something I'm not used to driving--like an SUV or a truck.

      Actually, my favorite stor
      • See my post above...

        Maybe it's different where you are, but like I said, the rental people told me all the supplemental insurance covers is for your deductable. $20/day to insure against a $500 deductable make no sense from any risk management perspective.

        Your story about the Lambo sounds like a bit of urban legend to me. They won't let you rent the car if your own insurance won't cover it, but they didn't check the guy's insurance to ensure it covered the value of an expensive car, which would be the

        • Re:But... (Score:3, Informative)

          by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 )
          "Your story about the Lambo sounds like a bit of urban legend to me. They won't let you rent the car if your own insurance won't cover it, but they didn't check the guy's insurance to ensure it covered the value of an expensive car [...]"

          Nope. I saw the remains of the car and talked to the owner. I was there renting a Cooper Mini S--I like to rent cars I'm considering buying to see if I'm really going to like them and it's tough to get the 'S' version from the neighborhood Hertz or Avis.

          The person he rent
    • Insurance is just part of the subscription price; you don't have to bother with any of that crap when you're trying to get somewhere.
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:02PM (#15274127) Homepage Journal
    Where've you been?
  • This is new??! (Score:4, Informative)

    by dorkygeek ( 898295 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:03PM (#15274133) Journal
    Sorry to break it to you, Businees Week, but we've got such a system here since pre-2000. Exactly as described!

    Though in the early days, you were given a key to open a box at the parking space, which in turn contained the car keys. Nowadays, you are handed out a near-range wireless SmartCard which you use to open the car and activate it (there's some in-car computer). This new system has been implemented at around 2001. And it's nation-wide. (For the curious, it's []).

  • While a fine idea, it's not exactly new. Zipcars have been around for a while. We couldn't have gotten our 144lb TV home otherwise. If you don't need a car everyday, it works out really well. Especially as many employers will subsidize the yearly fee. I think my girlfriend pays $25.00 a year (word to the wise: it's even cheaper if you mooch off your girlfriend)

    Although to be fair, it is pretty sci-fi. It's neat to walk up to a car in the middle of a parking lot, wave your wallet over the windshield and clim
    • They couldn't have delivered your TV?
      • The shitty thing about TV delivery is that it costs $50+ and you have to wait in an allotted four hour window. Plus that's one more cog in the chain that could drop your TV and delay it even more.

        Zipcars are around $10 an hour. So if its a two hour affair getting your TV, then you end up saving some money. You don't pay gas in a zipcar. So you save time and potentially money.
    • Sounds like my plan for years.

      Now, I require a car to get to work (miles down a highway, no alternative route and nasty weather), but I drive a small fuel efficient car. If I need to move something big, I'll rent something. It's not that expensive.

      Meanwhile I have lots of coworkers driving trucks or SUV's and complaining about gas prices.
    • I noticed the new Ikea has them, too... seems pretty useful there, too. They've got busses from the city down to there, take the zip car home and drop it off in the city.
  • There's also []

    "Welcome to a new era in personal transportation. It's called carsharing. You share access to hundreds of Flexcar vehicles, often within a five-minute walk of your home or work. You reserve a car online or by phone, you drive - to a meeting, to run errands, or to hit the lumber yard - and you return, all for one hourly rate that covers gas, insurance and unlimited miles. All you pay for is the drive. How simple and smart is that? Plus, Flexcar is convenient, affordable
  • I've had Zipcar / Flexcar / Stolencar for years!

    But... now it has Javascript!
  • If you live elsewhere, you're screwed, even if the city you live in is very large and well known. It's been around for 6 years and this is all there is? They're asleep if they think people wouldn't be interested in places like St. Louis that have crappy mass transit systems (I'm still waiting for the light rail line to open near me so I can get to work by biking to the station).
    • I was just driving in St. Louis this weekend. Please, if you happen to meet anyone even remotely related to the synchronization of stoplights there, kick him/her in the shins for me.

      Augh. Not a single green light down there. Some of the surrounding towns are alright, but in the city proper...
      • I don't drive in the city itself often but some of the roads I do drive on have crappy sync. I did read in the local paper that there's going to be at least one project to fix some of the light sync problems. Too bad I don't remember where that was.

        You would think that accelerating to the speed limit as soon as you leave a red light would get you greens. But nooooooooooo.
  • For those who don't remember, this is a followup to ZipCar's previous venture, a line of conveniently located car vending machines. The machines were essentially large parking garages that were built in major metropolitan areas. Customers would insert the MSRP of the car they wanted in dollars bills and change into the machine, then select their model using a Battleship-like combination of letters and numbers on a keypad. After selecting their model, a large steal coil would rotate and push the car off the parking garage. The car would then drop behind a door to be retrieved by the buyer. Unfortunately, the venture was fraught with problems from the start. Automakers wouldn't honor warranties on cars that had been dropped several stories, and many customers had difficulties obtaining refunds when they entered the wrong code and got a different model of car than they wanted.

    For more info, see the Wikipedia page on Zipcar [].

    • Unfortunately, the venture was fraught with problems from the start. Automakers wouldn't honor warranties on cars that had been dropped several stories, and many customers had difficulties obtaining refunds when they entered the wrong code and got a different model of car than they wanted.

      Those problems were nothing compared to what happened on busy days, when customer #2 punched in his selection while customer #1 was still starting the car at the bottom of the chute.

  • City Car Share (Score:3, Informative)

    by mattis_f ( 517228 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:13PM (#15274192)
    I can't speak for ZipCar, but I've been using City Car Share for about three years now. It's really smooth - there's a garage a couple blocks from my place, it costs $10 a month to be a member, renting a car is about $4 per hour and $0.4 per mile. This includes everything - gas, insurance, all.

    If you return the car late you get charged a pretty hefty late fee. You ca extend a reservation over the phone, provided that no-one else has reserved that car after you already. If you're running late and notify the office, you get a smaller late fee than you would have if you were just "missing".

    It's cost effective if you just need a car for a couple hours, or an evening. If you need it for a day or more, go to a car rental place.

    That article (if the summary is correct, which is a dangerous assumption to make on /. ) is real far behind.
  • Buncha crap (Score:1, Troll)

    by tacokill ( 531275 )
    So what happens if something is "wrong" with the car (broken, doesn't run, is damaged, 3rd gear doesn't work, etc)? What redress do you have to fix the problem? Do you really believe they can solve problems remotely? All problems? What about the missing passenger mirror? Somebody has to fix that eventually, don't they? How about changing the oil? And right now - they rely on the kindness of their customers to wash the car, keep it clean, gas it up, etc. That works great until you get a tragedy of c
    • Well my friend. I've got 1 reason why it's a great idea and *will* fly. []

      The've been running successfully for something like 8 years. I've been a member for over a year and it works smoothly... *all* the time. Never had a single problem. Not once. Sure the cars can get a bit dirty but you just clean it out and they pay you for your time. Easy as pie. You fill the gas when it goes below 1/2 tank. If you don't.. you get a fine. Easy as pie.

      They've got great cars, great prices and
      • Any more thoughs?

        Yea, just one. What happens when you leave Toronto and have to rent a car in Detroit? No Autocar.

        Seriously. Autocar may be a nice little business that works great in Toronto - but is the ONLY city they appear to be in (from what I can see on the website). The point of my previous post is that this business model does NOT scale very well to serve lots and lots of people (and cities). It just won't work on that level for the (some of) the reasons I outlined earlier.

        • Actually.. your previous post made no mention of scalability whatsoever. The point of your previous post was about maintenance of the cars and the viability of the business model in the face of problems arising from its self-serve nature.

          In any case.. the point of autoshare isn't to replace full day auto rentals. The point is to provide short term cars for those who don't have them. eg. if I want to go pick up some furniture from Ikea, pick up a massive load of groceries, make a midnight run to Home Depot
        • Flexcar and Zipcar -- two services, same deal -- are in fact each represented in multiple cities and appear to be scaling up at approximately the same rate, which would indicate that they're seeing similar business opportunities. You're really working hard to miss the point; this is a car-sharing service, not an Avis/Hertz manque. I've been a FlexCar member for quite some time now and frankly the availability of cars in other cities has nothing to do with my FlexCar use; as someone who treats it as a car-ow
    • Re:Buncha crap (Score:5, Informative)

      by jyoull ( 512280 ) <jim@me[ ] ['dia' in gap]> on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:31PM (#15274291)
      Jeez, people write without knowing much around here. Oh sorry, i forgot where i am.

      There is a whole flock of bicycle dudes [] who go out (in all weather, all year long) and take care of the cars. As well, Zipcar members are encouraged to inspect the car when they go to get it, and to immediately report any problems - dents, out of washer fluid, whatever.

      If it's something dumb like washer fluid, you can even buy more and they'll reimburse if you can't charge it on the (provided in the car) fleet gasoline charge card.

      Far as I know, the concept is flying and has been for like 6 years now. I am a very happy Zipcar customer. I've been able to get rid of my car altogether, saving many $thousands a year... and in exchange, I pay a few $hundreds per year for use of a practically new car, with insurance, maintenance and fuel provided, whenever I need one.

      As far as "whenever I need one" they seem to add cars pretty aggressively to follow demand. I've never been totally closed out... maybe you have to walk an extra 2 or 3 blocks to get to one at a specific time, but that's not really a big deal. It does require some adjustments to how you think about getting around, but the only reason I had a car in the past was for those trips that totally don't work on a bike (and taxis - just forget it, they're miserable and expensive)... this provides it.
    • So your the guy that can't use those.

      There is always some half baked moron that can't figure out how to work the machine.

      The only time I need to stop is when I by Beer and they ned to 'check' my ID.

      I am old enough where checking my ID is a formality at best.
    • You should send your 10,000 reasons to some of the several services [] that have been operating this way for years.

      Naysayers can just please go away. Borrowing a car for an hour is not a complicated transaction. You reserve the car, walk up to it, wave your electronic key, and drive off. It's *EASY* and it *WORKS IN PRACTICE*. You can't argue with success.

    • Well, we can tell you've never tried it. In Chicago, it's called iGo, but is basically the same thing, and acually, it works very well. Almost every car has a "sponsor" that keeps track of the car, and it's care, but if there's a problem, you just call and tell them. Then they fix it. Done. The cars are all new or nearly new, and mostly honda civics and elements here, so very reliable. That is just some of the 10,000 reasons I think this is a bad idea and won't fly It's already flown.
    • I absolutely fucking hate the stupid self serve checkouts at grocery store.

      You and your 80 yr old grandmother who wants to discover these new fangled 'puters, should stay away from self checkout then. As a former grocery store employee, I find them easy to use 90% of the time, and I enjoy checking out while the lady w/ 20 items in the 15 items or less lane paying w/ a check is holding everybody else up.
    • Actually, renting a car is probably simpler than pumping gas. Complicated things can happen with a rented car, but they don't happen when you're at the agency, so there's no way that there's going to be a customer service person handy (when a Hertz car breaks down on the highway, you don't pull the Hertz guy out of the trunk and ask him what to do...).

      Zipcar deals with that sort of stuff the same as anyone renting cars to people, and they deal with major repairs the same way as anyone else, too; you're requ
      • The customer is responsible for parking the car where it came from, but the space is reserved anyway, so that isn't difficult.
        out of interest do any of theese services offer one way travel (e.g. pick up at one depot drop off at another)?
        • Not that I know of; I think there isn't enough demand for one-way trips to make it worth the logistics. And they'd have to have somewhere to put cars that end up in spaces other than the ones they came from. Zipcar doesn't have depots, exactly. They rent and reserve a space in a garage or parking lot for each car, and there's nothing in the area aside from a sign and (if it's not in use) the car. So they'd need to have extra spaces, and have a system for reserving the ability to leave cars in them, as well
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Zipcar is great in concept until you have to deal with the actual company. They have a couple of limited formulas in play as to how to attain profitability, and fines definitely factor in there. Not report cat hair you didn't notice on the back seat? Surprise, you get a huge cleaning bill and if you dare to question, your account is yanked. Hopefully these types of services will be regulated somewhere down the road.
    • They're already being regulated ... by the free market, which will decide whether the company will prosper, merely hang on by the skin of its teeth, or go bankrupt. The great thing is that the company gets to lobby us as much as it wants, but if it lobbies us too much, it will lose money, to be replaced by another company that won't lobby so much. Plus, we can collude with each other to vote on "bankrupt" if they treat us badly.

  • To me it's worth the money I would have spent on a cab to have them pick me up.

    Why not just go to enterprise pay $20-30?

    I like that they wash the car, do an inspection and pick you up for free. Also if I'm late, I just get charged a new rate.
    • Re:Why bother (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 4alexnyc ( 826658 )
      This service is great for NYC residents - its far to expensive to own a car in the city and rental cars start at $60 a day without gas or insurance. And yes, you need insurance since I have no car insurance (because I don't own a car). The really nice part about Zipcar is it allows you to pick a car for a few hours - if I want to run out to Jersey or need a SUV to pickup a large package, why pay for an entire day when I can get a zipcar for a few hours? All the cars are stored in 24hr parking garages, so
      • Re:Why bother (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        $60? I've never gotten a car in Manhattan for less than $90. Zip Car is great, except that the cars are almost always booked on the weekends. If you can do your IKEA run (the only thing I've ever used a ZipCar for) on a weeknight, then you're all set.

        As for broken cars and whatnot, I've yet to have a problem. The cars are all very new and well cared for. They even have XM radio these days.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Zipcar is popular in my neighborhood in Boston (parking is rare and expensive) and useful for those quick trips to the grocery store, although it's tough to get any trip done in only 1 hour, so the minimum trip cost is probably close to $20.

    It is *much* more expensive than even Hertz if you are going to take a long trip: the first 100 miles are free, but the per-mile charge thereafter is very high.

    I signed up, thinking I would use it for my 1-week-a-month in Boston, but turns out to be cheaper to rent a car
  • Zeta Gundam TV show (aired in Japan from 1985-1986) has depicted this in the 80's. People are shown hopping into a "empty car" parked on the road side and are ready to go after swipping their ID card.
  • Things like "surprise sex" and "self-serve car rentals" have both been around for a while.
  • Zipcar's been around since 2000:

    Part-time wheels: City dwellers share cars through new service
    Associated Press Writer
    637 words
    23 June 2000
    Associated Press Newswires
    Copyright 2000. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
    BOSTON (AP) - It took only a month for the traffic jams, insurance costs and parking woes of Cambridge to convince Katherine Watkins to sell her car when she moved from Kentucky.

    But after two years riding the bus and taking cabs, she finally broke down and go
  • Really bad rates, I have to pay up front for the privilegde and I can rent a car for 17/day here. How much did the ol Burrito get for this advertisement?
  • Seriously, stop using the term Web 2.0. NOW.
  • If there are no people in the loop, why is it still so expensive? I rent cars frequently when I travel for business and I generally pay about $11/day for an economy model (this is without coupons, specials, or any sort of membership, just the normal rate at one of the big-name chains). $60/day - even for a nicer car, even with gas included - is a pretty hefty premium to pay just for not having to talk to the person behind the counter...
    • I dare you to find a car anywhere in the NY metro area for anywhere near $11 / day. Zipcar's rates are pretty competitive here. My one complaint, as somebody else pointed out, is that the cars are often dirty inside - nobody ever cleans 'em. I sure don't.
      • Holy cow, you're right - I just checked the rental company's website and their rate for JFK airport is $115 a day!!! My business trips are to Denver, where I get the $11 rate; even the rate for Los Angeles is $17/day.

        I wonder why such a huge discrepancy? It must be some kind of idiot tax for people who want to rent a car in a city with a great public transportation infrastructure...
    • These are mostly aimed at hourly and not daily use. I've used ZipCar and Flexcar and I think the business model is great. It would never be worth the hassle of going to a car rental place and filling out 10 minutes of paperwork for a few hours of use. I think the demographic is for people who don't want to own cars, due to decent transit or bike alternatives, but want a car once in a while to go somewhere off the transit system or to buy something large. Also, the ZipCar rates vary depending on what typ
  • by Davus ( 905996 )
    Self-service car rental? GTA: Vice City has been out for over a year now, man.
  • The answer is no. I wanted to use a ZipCar back in March to get from Boston to a little town about 4 hours to the west. They wanted like $50 just to sign up to use their service (a one year membership), plus all the fees for taking the vehicle that day for 12 hours and driving it hundreds and hundreds of miles. They charge you way too much for convenience. It's a shame, because I was quite excited to use their service, but it was just too expensive. I ended up missing a Philip Glass concert and was qui
    • Then you should have rented a car.

      The intended use is somebody who wants to go somewhere relatively close, but off the T (or with lots of stuff)
      for a short time. That is, a quick jaunt to the Ikea, BJ's Wholesale Club, or Bob's Store in Stoughton.
  • There are countless organizations that do auto sharing now, similar to rental, but in a pay as you use.

    Example: []
    $6/hr including gas, insurance, etc.
    a 'fleet' of cars all around the city.
    You book a car, it gives you a code and a location at the time that you want it.
    You pick up the car and drop it off in acceptable public parking lots.

    It's expensive for a day, but great to get a car to go do groceries or make a trip you wouldn't normally
  • I've been using ZipCar for about a year for business. The cars nearest me are parked at a private indoor lot only a few blocks from my apartment, so I never had to brush snow or ice in the winter, which is nice.

    Annoyingly, ZipCar tends to charge my credit card for the tolls I incurred weeks after the reservation. Why does it take so long? Doesn't EZPass give them some kind of realtime account? They must have a hundred EZPass tags in this area.

    The cars tend to be quite clean. I've never gotten into one
    • "Annoyingly, ZipCar tends to charge my credit card for the tolls I incurred weeks after the reservation. Why does it take so long? Doesn't EZPass give them some kind of realtime account? They must have a hundred EZPass tags in this area."

      ...which is to say the tolls I incurred when I had the car are billed a few weeks later. Shoulda used the preview button. :P
  • If Zipcar is Web 2.0, what isn't? This is beyond absurd.
  • I live in NYC and use ZipCar's service. It's a little misleading to refer to is as a "car rental" service; I'd call it a "scalable car sharing service," at least when talking to geeks. It's best for people who don't have a car at all (and there are a LOT of us in NYC). If you own a car and need to rent while travelling or for a special purpose that your car can't handle (e.g., moving), it's usually cheaper to rent a car from a rental agency. For folks without a car, for many short duration trips, ZipCar

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