Suica Off Peak Commute Point Service Quick Guide

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.

Summary
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.

Suica off peak commute campaign misses the mark

The COVID crisis has changed many things, none more than public transit. As companies transition away from daily work commutes to teleworking at home with occasional trips to the office, transit companies are forced to come up with incentives that entice people to use public transit. To that end JR East announced the off peak JRE POINT reward campaign back in November and released details this week for their Suica off peak commuting and repeat transit JRE POINT campaign.

The off peak campaign runs from March 15, 2021 ~ March 31, 2022, the repeat transit campaign starts March 1 and is open ended. It looks complex at first but is simply a matter of registering and keeping an eye on your commute start time.

Off Peak Commute Point Campaign
This campaign is for Suica commute pass/commute plan users. Limitations: (1) limited to a greater Tokyo area commute zone, (2) limited to ‘early’ and ‘late’ commute times that are different for each station, (3) limited to Suica commute plans (Mobile Suica or Apple Pay Suica) and Suica commuter passes (plastic) registered for JRE POINT (4) users must also take the extra step of signing up for the off peak campaign via the JRE POINT web site.

The off peak commute region shown above covers JR East lines in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. The tricky part is that you must start your commute and enter the gate during the designated off peak time that is different for each station, split in 2 separate ‘early’ (15 point) and ‘late’ (20 point) hour blocks. An example for the Chuo line: Hachioji station off peak hours are ‘early’ 5:35~6:35 and ‘late’ 8:05~9:05. For Chuo line Asagaya the hours are ‘early’ 6:20~7:20 and ‘late’ 8:50~9:50. Off Peak times will be posted at each station, JR East also released a PDF that lists all off peak station times.

Repeat Transit Point Campaign
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. If you ride the same route more than 10 times in the same month, each 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. Think of it as a Suica replacement of paper ticket booklets, the reliable ‘buy ten and get one free’ transit institution that has been around forever but is quickly disappearing.

Not nearly enough
Frankly I think these JR East campaigns are not nearly enough, though they are better than nothing. There are many innovative things JR East should 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 stale stingy ‘Tonosama’ business style marketing campaigns from a big old stodgy company used to having its 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.


Resources
The first step is registering your Suica in JRE POINT. For repeat transit points there is nothing more to do, JRE POINT are added automatically if you make the same trip 10 times in the same month. For off peak points you must have a JRE POINT registered commuter pass/commute plan Suica that is also entered for the off peak campaign, and start the commute during designated station off peak times.

Suica linked My Number MaaS and JRE POINT for Off-Peak Suica Commuting

My Number Card linked with Suica for MaaS in Maebashi

JR East announced some interesting services today: Suica linking with My Number ID cards (aka Individual Number Cards) and a JRE POINT campaign for off-peak Suica commuting.

The off-peak commute campaign starts March 1 and runs for an entire year. JR East wants to encourage commuting without COVID risky crowding with off-peak commuting rewards. On my own daily commute I have noticed a sharp increase of people with the colder weather in the morning peak commute hours.

Peak-hours are 7:00~8:30 am, off-peak is defined as ‘early commute’ 6:00 am~7:00 am that earns 15 JRE POINT and ‘easy commute’ 8:30 am~9:30 am which earns 20 JRE POINT. In my case the ‘easy commute’ reward works out to about 500 JRE POINT a month. This is in addition to the regular monthly JRE POINT transit rewards. I wish I could be in the top earning ‘easy commute’ bracket but ‘early commuter’ will be my only choice. Such is life.

A second reward for non-commute plan Suica fare regardless of time or route offers a free fare in JRE POINT with 10 transits with an additional 10% of fare rewards for each additional transit. Mobile Suica earns more than plastic Suica, so think of this as a kind of ‘welcome to Suica Suica’ run up campaign.

The My Number Card linking scheme, via NFC tags, is designed to drive local MaaS services for local residents by linking age and local residence confirmation to Suica. Local transit discounts for elderly and children are the start point, the press announcement also highlights shopping discounts and local government services. It’s proof of age and local residency just by using a linked Suica. The MaaS service area is scheduled to start from December in Maebashi.

It’s an intriguing service that finally promises to deliver some of the features that My Number Card was designed to do. But in this case I think the service needs some kind of on the spot hook, like a instant cash-back PayPay kind of gimmick to get people to really use it. People like instant gratification. Looking at a monthly Suica or JRE POINT transaction list to find the rebate just isn’t sexy enough for most people to try something new.

Fields of Dreams: the endlessly looping open loop vs closed loop transit debate

MacRumors reported that Apple Pay Express Transit support is finally arriving, bit by bit, on the TfL system after being announced back in May. I only noticed the piece because somebody threw a link to my site in one of the forum comments and the discussion has some interesting, and deliciously snarky, open loop bank cards for transit vs. native transit card debate.

The ‘Japan has a transit IC card problem’ angle is interesting. Yes, Japan does have a transit IC card problem, if you work for a bank credit card operation that wants to promote open loop, which I suspect is the case in the forum debate. The counter argument presentation-like power points are just too glib: to date no major transit system has junked native transit cards for bank cards, not even Oyster. Transit is a license to print money and the huge transaction volumes in Tokyo alone are mouth watering. The ‘problem’ for bank card players is how to angle for a bigger cut of the action.

Plastic era thinking in the Digital Mobile Wallet era
The debate perfectly represents the plastic era transit card vs credit card mindset that completely ignores the impact of digital wallets and mobile payments. My take is that smartphone digital wallets do away with old plastic era distinctions and create new business opportunities for transit companies, if they chose to pursue them. Most don’t.

Tech analysts love to talk about ‘value capture’. The current cashless payments frenzy in Japan is all about capturing users to sign on with a payment platform then growing the ecosystem with more and more services that users, hopefully, want to pay extra for. Nobody talks about this in the open loop vs closed loop debate. The bank that owns the credit card owns the customer going through the transit gate, not the transit company. Put it this way, JRE POINT that go back into free Suica recharges, Green Car upgrades, etc. are vastly different from bank card points, as are the business platforms they feed customers back into. Moving people are money in motion, who gets a cut and what businesses do with that cut is everything.

It an interesting paradox that Europe and America talk about privatizing public transportation in various degrees but to date only Japan and Hong Kong have built highly successful businesses based on private transit ‘value capture’. The endless open loop vs closed loop debate always comes down to this: you can argue all you want about the parts but in the end it is meaningless. To truly understand things, you have to examine the whole business model, how everything fits together, and how that can benefit everybody while growing and evolving.

CASHLESS Rebate JRE POINT Pay Day

November 5 was JRE POINT CASHLESS rebate pay day, a grand total of ¥178. Big whup. After a month of using the CASHLESS rebate program, I can say that most of my Suica CASHLESS rebates are the convenience store instant transaction variety that do not use the JRE POINT system. I have also gotten more points out of the JRE POINT yellow logo 2% rebate campaign because I frequent Becks Coffee Shop and NewDays on the daily commute. Most of my cashless rebates are via my plastic Docomo dCard/Mastercard at the local COCOS Nakamura supermarket (the bento selection is real good, as is the fish).

Still, I’m glad to report that the system works as advertised. All the rebate points for October are in. My only wish is for more eligible stores to join the program while the deal lasts.