Suica, Toica, ICOCA integrating commuter pass regions staring in April 2021

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.

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Tokyo Cashless 2020: Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App

1️⃣ >Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo

Now that iOS 13 with supercharged Core NFC is almost here, it’s time for JR East to junk the old Suica Charge app for Sony PaSoRi FeliCa reader combo on life support until the plug is pulled in September 2020, and create a new Core NFC supercharged app for iOS 13. Since any iPhone 7 and later has the ability to Read/Write FeliCa cards build a whole new app around iPhone as the NFC read/write device. Here are some other helpful suggestions:

  • 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.

Update: I forgot that JR East already announced the end of “Suica Internet” services in September 2020. Suica Internet is a set of internet based services for online shopping and recharging Suica cards with the Sony PaSori reader and a Windows PC. JR East is pruning legacy services as they prepare for the next generation Super Suica rollout in April 2021.

JR West ICOCA Expands Coverage on JR Shikoku

JR West ICOCA extension on JR Shikoku

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.

JR West ICOCA covers a small part of the JR Shikoku rail network already, today they announced an extension covering 7 more stations in March 2020. Even with this extension which is compatible with Apple Pay Suica, Transit IC coverage in Shikoku remains a real headache, one that is hopefully and finally solved by Super Suica in 2021.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, a very cool animated timeline is also available

Suica Tops Contactless Use in Tokyo Area

Another market survey, another few data points. MoneyZine writers Hideyuki Kato and Isamu Saito report some interesting results of 2 different cashless use surveys. As I reported a year ago, Apple Pay has brought a lot of changes to the Japanese payments market but it’s hard to make sense of it due to highly regional preferences: Suica is king in the Kanto area, ICOCA in the Kansai, and so on.

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.

We also know from a previous survey by IT journalist Sachiko Watanabe that most iPhone users do not use Apple Pay:

  • 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.

Hankyu Goes ICOCA

Hankyu Corporation announced in January they would sell ICOCA cards for commuter pass use starting March 1. The switchover is interesting on many levels. ICOCA is the JR West transit IC card and PiTaPa is the transit IC card for Kansai area private lines (Hankyu, Keihan, Hanshin, Kintetsu, etc.). They are both FeliCa cards, offer commuter passes and are compatible for transit use under the Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association project specification.

There is one big difference: ICOCA is prepaid while PiTaPa is a postpaid credit card/transit card hybrid that can never really be mainstream because it has credit checks. ICOCA can be bought by anyone at a ticket machine. The Hankyu/Hanshin switchover to prepaid ICOCA for the masses follows the JR West arrangement that Kintetsu and Keihan already have in place. There is just one last little detail that JR West needs to work out however: get ICOCA on mobile digital wallet platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Super Suica should take care of that in 2021.