As companies transition away from daily work commutes during the COVID crisis to teleworking at home with occasional trips to the office, transit companies are forced to come up with incentives that encourage people to use public transit while keeping it safe. To that end JR East announced a Suica off peak and repeat commute point service campaign. Transit users earn JRE POINT on their weekday work commute when they ride at designated off peak station times. JR East is promoting safe transit with less congestion.
It’s a good idea, unfortunately there are big limitations: (1) only end to end transit on JR East lines qualities for off peak point service, and (2) everything is tied into the user unfriendly JRE POINT system. The Suica commute point service campaign comes in 2 flavors:
- Commuter Suica Off Peak Point Service: start the work commute at your station during designated ‘Early’ or ‘Late’ time slots. The Off Peak Point Service runs from March 15, 2021 ~ March 31, 2022
- Regular Suica Repeat Point Service: making the same trip 10 times a month or more. The Repeat Point Service starts March 1, 2021 and is open ended. Repeat Point Service is the Suica equivalent of paper ticket booklets, the reliable ‘buy ten trips and get one free’ transit institution that has been around forever but is quickly disappearing.
1. Commuter Suica Off Peak Point Service
This is the main point the JR East campaign aimed at Commuter Suica users. There are a number of limitations:
- Only end to end transit on JR East lines qualifies for service points. If any part of your commute route uses non-JR East transit gates you won’t get service points. JR East lists all invalid patterns in their PDF and there are lots of them.
- Suica off peak does not cover all JR East stations. The Off Peak Point Service area is limited to a core JR East Tokyo metropolitan area that includes Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. See the off peak map below or download the PDF file.
- Weekday transit only. Transit on weekends and national holidays does not quality for Off Peak and Repeat Point Service.
- Off Peak Point Service is limited to valid Apple Pay Suica cards with valid commute plans, Mobile Suica (Osaifu Keitai) commuter and plastic Commuter Suica cards. Off Peak is not valid for FLEX, Student, Green, Monorail and Rinkai Suica commuter passes.
There is only one work around for commute routes that start at a JR East gate, transfer to another line and end at a non-JR East gate: exit the JR East section of the transfer station via a JR East gate, then enter via a non-JR East transit gate. The diagram below gives you an idea. At some transfer stations this is easy to do, like JR East Gotanda > Tokyu Gotanda. I am working on a video guide and will post it here.
Off Peak Service Registration
To earn off peak points valid Commuter Suica cards must be: (1) registered in JRE POINT and (2) registered for Off Peak Service Point via the JRE POINT web site. If you do not have a JRE POINT account use this guide to create one.
Off Peak Service Commute Times
You must start your commute and enter the gate during designated off peak ‘Early’ or ‘Late’ time slots that are unique for each station. An ‘Early’ time block commute earns 15 JRE POINT, a ‘Late’ time block commute earns 20 JRE POINT.
An example: Chou line Hachioji station off peak time blocks are ‘early’ 5:35~6:35 and ‘late’ 8:05~9:05. Chuo line Asagaya stataion off peak time blocks are ‘early’ 6:20~7:20 and ‘late’ 8:50~9:50. Off Peak times are posted at each station, JR East also a PDF that lists all off peak station times.
Off Peak Service Point Reward Schedule
Off Peak Service Points are calculated every 2 months and rewarded to your JRE POINT account the following month. JRE POINT numbers ending in a even digit are rewarded on even months, JRE POINT numbers ending in an odd digit are rewarded on odd months. See the chart below
2. Regular Suica Repeat Point Service
This campaign is geared for working folks who use Suica to go to the office but don’t commute enough to invest in a pass. Ride the same route 10 times a month and earn a free ride in JRE POINT. If you ride the same route more than 10 times in the same month, each additional transit earns 10% of the transit fare in JRE POINT.
- The repeat transit region is much larger than the off peak campaign one and covers all Suica fare JR East lines, all stations with Suica gates in greater Kanto, Niigata and Sendai.
- There is nothing transit users need to do other than have their Suica registered for JRE POINT. If you have already done that it’s all automatic.
- The same end to end transit on JR East lines limitation of the off peak service point also applies to the repeat point service.
- The Repeat Point Service is valid for non-commuter Apple Pay Suica, Mobile Suica and regular JR East issue plastic Suica.
The JR East campaign Suica off peak commute campaign misses the mark. It is full of promise but the limitations make it useless for many commuters who would enjoy the service point benefits. It is better than nothing, but not much and only for a smallish group of JR East commuters.
JR East and other transit companies need to cooperate for reward campaigns and discounts that work across entire regions and point systems. There are many innovative things JR East should also be doing: leverage Suica smarts for a accumulated mileage calculated reward point campaign tailored for each user, offer a yearly commuter pass at a half year price that corporate customers would eagerly snap up, repurpose empty JR East hotels at Shinkansen friendly regional stations for telework satellite offices that help build regional business.
Instead of innovation however, we get stingy complex and unfriendly ‘Tonosama’ style campaigns from big stodgy transit companies used to having their way with customers. The big COVID era transit crisis demands big bold ideas. Japanese transit companies must truly innovate to make transit essential and safe again. Anything less is a waste of time and infrastructure, use it or lose it.