JR companies move Transit IC goalposts for easier cross region commuting

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 200 km fare region wall. There’s a Japanese word for it, ‘matagari’ which means dismount…as in dismount and pay full fare in cash at the gate. 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 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) have worked to ease this problem and have new commuter pass operating rules starting March 13. I posted about it earlier, but it’s worth explaining again and covering the limitations.

Moving Transit Region Goalposts
Basically the JR Group companies are moving transit region commute pass goalposts slightly inside their respective regions. This is not difficult to do as commuter passes are simply commute plans attached to a transit card with an ID number. For Suica users the new rules mean Suica commuter passes work beyond Atami, all the way to Numazu, and Toica commuter passes work though Odawara.

Shinkansen commuters gain the most benefit and the new rules are designed to open up transfer stations to Transit IC cards. 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 commute pass users also gain the ability to ride the Tokkaido Shinkansen area covering Tokyo~Shin Iwakuni for ticketless non-reserve seating, similar to JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen.

There are still many 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: this still operates under the current region limitations.

These changes are baby steps. I hope the 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.

There’s a new gate being installed at Atami station with a different color. Rumors are flying that this might be a Toica gate that accommodates interchange between Toica and Suica regions for regular (non-commuter pass) transit. All will be revealed March 13.

JR East station entrance tickets go ticketless
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.