2022? If it’s going to take that long why bother announcing it now? I am sure that part of the reason for the long lead time is the next generation Suica card architecture (Super Suica) and FeliCa OS update coming in spring of 2021. All nine of the Suica sister transit IC cards under the Transit IC interoperability umbrella will need to switch over to the new transit card format to maintain compatibility: Suica, Toica, ICOCA, SUGOCA, Kitaca, PASMO, namaca, Hayaken, nimoca.
Right now Mobile Suica is the only transit card on mobile, and mobile offers service extras like downloadable Shinkansen eTickets. The next generation Super Suica format will likely extend mobile capability and mobile service extras to all nine cards. At the very least JR Central will have to retool the EX system for the new card architecture while maintaining compatibility with the current card architecture. It makes sense to upgrade the current EX system areas first and add Kyushu Shinkansen ticketing last.
Big things sometimes come in small packages. JR East, JR Central, JR West issued a joint press statement on September 20 that starting in April 2021, Suica-Toica-ICOCA commuter pass regions will be enlarged into one continuous virtual commuter region. This will cover regular rail lines and Shinkansen lines, and address current transit region ‘gotcha gaps’. The press release comes almost exactly one year after the JR East, Sony, JREM ‘Super Suica’ next generation transit card announcement, the start date coincides with the new transit card rollout.
This has big implications and fits with the scenario outlined in the Super Suica piece. The press release does not mention Mobile Suica, and only shows current style IC transit cards, but it’s important to remember that Super Suica is a next generation transit card architecture with a next generation FeliCa OS for both IC cards and mobile.
For Apple Pay Suica users this means that starting in 2021 all commuter passes for those IC card regions can likely be covered by one ‘Super Suica’, however details are few at this point. I hope to post an analysis of these developments soon. There is a lot to look forward to as Japanese transit companies prepare for the big, long term migration to the next generation transit card architecture.
This press release only covered the JR Group side, some grey areas remain. Now that the JR Group have an agreement in place to integrate their trunk line commuter pass regions, I expect that we will hear something similar for PASMO and other private rail IC transit card commuter regions at a later date.
Make the app multilingual, or at least support English in addition to Japanese
Cooperate with the other major transit card companies to support all compatible Japanese transit IC cards for recharging, not just Suica
Support international issue credit/debit card registration in the app so that anybody from anywhere can recharge plastic transit IC cards with their bank card
Support In-App Apple Pay for recharging
Support the app on Non-Osaifu Keitai Android phones that can read/write NFC-F, there are lots of them out there coming to Tokyo in 2020, support Google Pay for In-App recharging too
There is an ocean of plastic Japanese transit IC cards out there. There are lots of Android users, and even iPhone users, who cannot use Apple Pay Suica or Google Pay Suica. A handy Suica recharge app that lets inbound travelers recharge plastic transit cards on the go with just a smartphone is screaming to be born, it would be an essential tool in alleviating station recharge kiosk lines during the Tokyo Olympics. JR East, please make it happen.
If you are familiar with the Japan Transit IC card system that started with Suica and grew from there, you might know the other major cards like JR West ICOCA and JR Central Toica. What about the JR Shikoku card? There isn’t one.
The problem dates back to the many bad decisions made by the Nakasone Government when they privatized JNR by breaking off small weak areas like Hokkaido and Shikoku as independent JR companies. It would have been much better if they had used the NTT privatization model of just two companies, East and West, which balance out weak areas with metropolitan hubs.
The 1st data point is a survey from Yumenomachi that ranks the different cashless payment methods:
Credit cards: 88.4%
Transit cards: 49.7%
Apple Pay/Google Pay/Osaifu Keitai: 35.4%
Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 31.7%
QR Codes (Line Pay, PayPay, etc): 25.6%
The 2nd data point is a survey from One Compath. This survey reports 56% of the respondents as using cashless more than a year ago, with slightly different ranking:
Credit cards: 71.4%
Transit cards: 31.7%
Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 53.0%
The 3rd data point from the same One Compath survey is very interesting but not surprising. It ranks prepaid card use separately for transit and reward cards by prefecture. Transit card use for payments in the Kanto Area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama) is 85%, while prepaid reward cards are the overall winner on a national basis. This is because of the reach of AEON supermarkets and convenience stores in rural areas where people don’t use transit cards or the local transit cards do not support purchases. The next generation Super Suica format is aimed specifically at incorporating these small rural area transit cards so they can be used anywhere as Suica.
One take away is that in the Kanto area Suica is easily the most used contactless card at checkout (Suica issuance is twice that of PASMO). Credit cards lead in cashless, but are still mostly swipe or Chip and PIN at checkout. When prepaid cards are totaled together, credit card and prepaid card use is almost equal. The surveys do not look at average purchase amounts for the different cashless methods. I suspect that Suica and other prepaid card use leads for smaller purchases while credit cards are used for larger purchase items.
Only 27% of iPhone users who can use Apple Pay use it
50% don’t use Apple Pay but are interested in using it
22% don’t use Apple Pay and don’t care about using it
These numbers jive with the 35.4% digital wallet use figure in data point 1. The short summary here is that there is still plenty of opportunity for Apple Pay to grow in the Japanese market, and the Super Suica format in 2021 has the potential to break down the regionality and shake up the market.