When Your Train Stops

Most rush hour train announcements , the real ones, are mundane. Occasionally they announce a short delay: somebody’s bag got stuck in a door or got sick and needed assistance. The worrisome ones are the emergency stops when somebody hits the platform panic button somewhere. Fortunately most of those clear in a reasonably short time. Then there is the dreaded “Jishin Jiko”, a jumper, a  guarantee your train is going nowhere. December and March are usually the worst times of the year for those cases because that’s when the Yakuza call in delinquent loans.

The acid test of a real Tokyo commuter is how fast you think on your feet the moment a Jishin Jiko announcement comes over the PA system. You know it’s serious when people around you pull out their smartphones and start searching for alternate routes or make phone calls. On the Yamanote line the train crew usually parks at the closest station so people can get off. If you are lucky enough to get a smart train conductor, they offer detailed alternate route information.

When I got stuck on the Yamanote line at Shibuya station once the conductor quickly instructed, “the Yamanote outside (clockwise) loop is running, if you need to get to Ebisu, Meguro or Gotanda stations take the Saikyo line on platform 4 to Ozaki station and double back on the outside loop.” It took a little extra time but I made it to Gotanda station and was on my way.

Another time I was not so lucky, the entire Yamanote line was stopped but the Saikyo line was still running so I took it to Ozaki station. From there I walked to the nearest Tokyu Ikegami line station and was on my way again. 20 minutes lost but no trouble getting to the office in time.

The scariest stoppage was March 11, 2011 when every train and subway in Tokyo stopped running during the massive earthquake. Early the next morning, a Saturday, every train was packed with very tired people who didn’t make a sound as they slowly made their way back home. In the silence you could feel the shock and sadness. In a crush of people on a train you could almost hear a pin drop.

Suica Platform Market Info Update

JRE Points

JR East released some more Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica market data via Payment Navi. Suica market basics as of February 28 2018:

  • Suica cards issued to date (plastic and Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica) : 68 million
  • Stores that accept Suica e-money payment: 450,190
  • Suica compatible NFC store terminals: 814,680
  • Highest recorded daily Suica transactions (August 25, 2017): 6.64 million

That might not sound impressive at first but considering that 7-Eleven has 2,600 stores in Tokyo, you begin to appreciate the scale that is the Suica Platform.

On the Mobile Suica side JR East recorded 140,000 new Mobile Suica users the first full month that Apple Pay Suica was online (November 2016) , a 700% YOY increase compared to November 2015. Longer term Mobile Suica growth was 20% the first year of Apple Pay Suica service @ 990,000. Total Mobile Suica membership as of December 31, 2017 was 5.2 million.

It’s not clear if the JR East numbers include Apple Pay Suica users who are not Mobile Suica members: users who just add a Suica card to Apple Pay but don’t use the Suica App. I suspect not as JR East reported slightly different Mobile Suica user growth numbers previously.

Even after more than 10 years of Mobile Suica service and 1 year of Apple Pay Suica service, less than 10% of the Suica install base use Suica on mobile devices. There’s plenty of growth potential but as I pointed out in Apple Pay Japan One Year Mark, the next stage of Mobile Suica growth depends on JR East’s ability to negotiate commuter pass agreements with other transit companies that allow Mobile Suica commuter passes in non-JR East regions such as Nagoya or Osaka. That would let Suica, especially Apple Pay Suica, break out of the Tokyo region box.

JR East is building up the Suica Platform in other ways: a streamlined loyalty point system and inexpensive easy to deploy thin client POS terminals.

Goodbye Suica Points, Hello JRE Points
The different JR East loyalty point systems were confusing. We had Suica Points and View Card Points that were not easily exchanged or converted. Starting in late 2017 JR East rolled out yet another point system, JRE Points, that will replace and merge everything into one thing. Suica Points have already been rolled into JRE Points, View Points will be rolled in starting in June 2018.

If you have ever used the JRE Point App you already know that JR East has a lot of work to do if they want JRE Points to be easy to use as Apple Pay Suica. JRE Point App is the kind of app that screams to be a NFC tag thing instead of forcing users to use a plastic card to get those JRE loyalty points. The current JRE Point App does let you convert JRE Points into a Suica Recharge but that’s about it. Also be careful to turn off JRE App background GPS use, it’s a real battery suck.

The JRE Point marketing rocket is just getting off the ground. Once View Points are rolled into the new system I think we’ll see some interesting JRE Point campaigns from JR East as summer gets into high gear. If they work out the NFC tag thing, it could all be great.

Android Thin Client Suica Payment Terminals
Up until now Suica Payment terminals have been ‘rich clients’ that processed payments locally. JR East feels confident enough with the robust Japanese Internet and 4G infrastructure to offer a low cost ‘thin client’ POS payment terminal, the same yet-to-be-named Android smartphone based POS terminals that JR East installed along the Joban line in February. JR East developed it with Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co. Ltd. based on mobile Suica reader technology created for Shinkansen food service carts and vending machines.

This simple and easy to use device communicates with the Suica payment processing cloud service and works out of the box. It’s an easy choice for small shops who don’t want to bother with the complexity or cost of a CARDNET or Rakuten Pay.

Last but not least JR East said they are “considering” English language versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica (Android) for inbound visitors to Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I can understand why JR East is taking time on this. It will be a big support cost because they’ll have to setup an English help desk in addition to localizing the apps, all for a tiny part of their customer base who love to complain.

One more thing, last week Goldman Sachs rated JR East stock a buy.

iPhone X Suica Transit Gate Error Mapping #2

Reader comments on my error map proposal made it clear I mistakenly assumed that most people are familiar with the standard JR station layout.

Basic Station Layout
JR station gate layout has dedicated entrance and exit gates with a few bidirectional gates in the middle to accommodate different rush hour flows. Important transfer point gates between 2 different train company lines, such as Gotanda station transfer gates between the Tokkyu Ikegami and JR East Yamanote lines are exclusively bidirectional.

Look carefully at the bidirectional Asagaya #4 gate closeup and you can see the exit bound reader and display on the lefthand side. Slightly larger steel rimmed barriers separate the gate machines. Gates are numbered from south to north or east to west depending on the orientation.

Based on reader feedback I created two more iPhone X Suica error map proposals for Asagaya and Koenji stations but something doesn’t feel right. This approach doesn’t work: it’s too complex and also sets up the expectation that some gates are guaranteed trouble free which they are not. The iPhone X Suica problem is a iOS 11 software issue that can happen anytime, at any gate. That much is clear from reader experiences. The only thing to do is wait for Apple to fix it.

It’s a dead end so I’ll stop here. If you are interested in iPhone X Suica Problem coverage I created a page for that. New developments and information will be posted there.

iPhone X has a NFC hardware problem, for more information see:
iPhone X Suica Problem Q&A Exchange Guide (English Version)
iPhone X Suica問題Q&A交換ガイド(日本語版)

The Aha Moment

Fellow blogger “Mono Suki Techo” (Notebook of Things I Like) has also been digging into the iPhone X Apple Pay Suica problem and hit gold. One of his readers reported that Apple Pay Suica worked fine with the iOS 11.0.1 his iPhone X shipped with, but he started experiencing the Suica error problem only after directly updating to iOS 11.3. This is the magic baseline that had been missing, the key that unlocks the mystery.

It’s a software issue after all.

I upgraded iPhone X to iOS 11.1 at the Docomo Shop right out of the box and missed the iOS 11.0.1 experience. That’s probably what most people did when setting up their new iPhone X and the reason why there were very few iOS 11.0.1 iPhone X Suica user experiences to compare with later. Unfortunately iOS 11.1 was the starting point for iPhone X Suica error problems which spiraled out of control with the Apple Cash iOS 11.2 Update. Apple Pay code changes for Apple Cash stomped on something in Suica and that hasn’t been fixed yet.

None of this changes anything or resolves the problem, but it’s nice to know. There’s nothing else to do but wait for Apple to fix it. I created a dedicated page to cover the issue, news and developments will be posted there.

iPhone X has a NFC hardware problem, for more information see:
iPhone X Suica Problem Q&A Exchange Guide (English Version)
iPhone X Suica問題Q&A交換ガイド(日本語版)