JR Group moves Transit IC goalposts for easier cross region commuting (Updated)

Traffic News photo of JR Central Numazu Station plastered with ‘TOICA cards cannot travel beyond Atami in the Suica region’ warning signs

One glaring weakness of Japanese Transit IC cards is the fare region wall. There’s a Japanese word for it, ‘matagaru’ which means through passage without dismounting…as in dismount in the middle of a journey and pay full fare in cash at the gate because the transit IC fare region is different from the entry station. Suica for example only works for transit in the Suica/PASMO region, users cannot travel across 2 different regions. This means Suica users traveling into the JR Central TOICA area or vice versa have 2 choices: (1) paper tickets for the whole trip, (2) buy a paper exit ticket with Suica at the exit gate fare adjustment kiosk. This is the way it has worked for all cross region transit.

This is very inconvenient for Shinkansen commuters who live in the Numazu~Mishima JR Central region and commute into the Suica/PASMO Tokyo region. Suica and TOICA commuter passes are worthless, old fashioned mag strip commuter passes are the only option. A similar situation exists for cross region commuters in the TOICA~ICOCA regions. Fortunately, the JR Group companies (JR East, JR Central, JR West) are working to ease this problem and have new ‘matagaru’ cross region commuter pass service starting March 13. I posted about this development earlier, but it’s worth explaining again in more detail and covering the limitations.

Cross Region Transit
Basically the JR Group companies are moving transit region commute pass goalposts slightly inside their respective fare regions. The TOICA region is expanding slightly to include boarder stations: Atami, Kozu (JR East/JR Central) and Maibara (JR Central/JR West). ICOCA is expanding to include Kameyama (JR Central/JR West). For Suica users the new rules mean Suica cross region commuter passes work for transit into the TOICA fare region, and vice versa for TOICA commuter cross region passes in the Suica fare region.

In theory this should not be very difficult to do as commuter passes are commute plans attached to a transit card with an ID number but the press release suggests some transit card architecture differences: (1) the 200 km transit limit for ICOCA and TOICA has been extended to 300 km covering 2 transit IC fare regions, (2) older passes must be reissued on a new card in order to be upgraded. The new issue requirement, along with JR East making the soon to be released ‘Super’ Suica 2 in 1 card available for cross region commuter passes does strongly suggest the new FeliCa SD2 card architecture is used for cross region transit.

The core cross transit regions are Numazu (Shizuoka)~Odawa (Kanagawa) for Suica and TOICA, and Hikone (Shiga)~Ogaki (Gifu) for ICOCA and TOICA. The cross region commuter pass details state that passes cover up to 300 km over 2 regions. Shinkansen commuters gain the most benefit as the new rules are aimed to open up transfer stations to Transit IC cards for Shinkansen commutes. Suica FREX commuter passes cover local Numazu to Mishima transit→Shinkansen to Shinagawa/Tokyo transit→local transit in the Suica/PASMO area. Toica and ICOCA commuters have similar benefits. Regular commuter pass users also gain the ability to ride the Tokkaido Shinkansen area covering the entire Tokyo~Shin Iwakuni for ticketless non-reserve seating, similar to JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen.

There are still big limitations: (1) plastic cards only: no Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica support because ICOCA and Toica are not on mobile yet, (2) regular non-commute pass transit not included: regular transit cards still operate under the current region and 200 km limitation (TOICA and ICOCA fare regions only as the Suica fare region does not have any distance limit).

There’s a new gate installed at Atami station with a blue color. This is a Toica exit gate that accommodates regular Toica (non-commuter pass) transit. Entrance gates have not changed as they already accommodate any Transit IC card including Apple Pay Suica•PASMO. Only the exit gate matters for the fare region calculation (Suica fare or TOICA fare). There is a similar setup at Maibara station for TOICA and ICOCA users. This simple addition of extending the TOICA region and adding TOICA exit gates really shows how much JR Central has left TOICA on the back burner. They could have done this years ago.

An excited TOICA user travels from Numazu to Atami using the new TOICA exit gate.

These changes are baby steps. I hope fare region limitations gradually disappear after the next generation Suica card architecture is in place and shared by all Mutual Use Transit IC Association members with the major players on mobile. These are challenging times for public transit all around the world, Japanese transit companies need to hurry up and seriously cooperate.

JR East Suica station entrance tickets
In a separate service announcement also starting March 13, JR East stations will accept Suica/Transit IC cards, Apple Pay Suica included, for non-transit station entrance ticketing. These cost ¥140 (Kanto district station malls)~¥150 (everywhere else), are good for 2 hours, and cover all Suica gated stations (flap gate stations). Non-JR East stations, JR East stations off the Suica grid and Shinkansen gated areas inside JR East stations are not supported.

The origin of station entrance tickets was for tearful platform farewells seen in old classic movies, but in this era it’s all about enticing people to shop and use facilities in station malls. Ticketless is nice but I wish JR East had also figured out a way to waive the fee with Suica purchases over a certain amount, kinda like free parking vouchers. That would be the ultimate station mall shopping motivation.

New gate entrance/exit layouts are in place at the new Transit IC card region exchange points for Suica, TOICA, ICOCA. A twitter posted the station notice for Maibara, the new exchange point for TOICA~ICOCA commuter passes. There is a ‘TOICA’ gate. A similar gate is in place at Atami station for Suica~TOICA transit. It doesn’t eliminate the Transit IC region boundary limitation but the new arrangement improves the transfer point experience for Shinkansen users, especially smart EX/EX-Press Reserve users.