New JR East Shinkansen eTicket service is a bumpy transition

Three new Suica App system notices spell out the end of old style in-app Shinkansen ticket purchases ending March 13 for the new JR East Shinkansen eTicket service launching March 14. The switchover is going to be bumpy and clear as mud. A quick list of things to be careful of:

The Bad Ugly

  • Automatic Apple Pay Suica ID# linking is dead
    You have to manually enter your Apple Pay Suica # in the fugly Japanese only Eki-net online site (not the iOS app). Unfortunately copy/paste from Suica App does not work well because the first 2 letters of the string must be entered via pull down menu (macOS) or scroll wheel (iOS) and the entry field cuts off the final 2 digits of the string. This is stupid UI design in the smartphone era.
  • Suica App Shinkansen in app purchases are dead, new eTicket Shinkansen reservations/purchases have to be made online in Eki-net. The current version of iOS Eki-net has not been updated yet and is only for old style ticket reservations and purchases.

The Good

  • All major transit IC cards can be registered for JR East Shinkansen eTickets on the Eki-net site.

The Missing
From a system standpoint it’s clear that locally processed Shinkansen tickets directly downloaded to Apple Pay Suica/Mobile Suica are over. All JR systems will use the same smartEX approach of soft-linked transit IC card numbers with the eTicket information stored on the cloud.

We are losing Suica App Shinkansen in-app integration, iOS Eki-net app is not plugged in with Shinkansen eTicketing, taken together with backend system changes I guess JR East is breaking eggs to make a new omelette. Will things end end up bigger and better?

JR group cooperation is a classic cat herd, Shinkansen lines might be connected but they don’t appear to be cooperating on a deep level to integrate eTicketing systems, at least not from the outside. This needs to change. The JR East press releases details the Shinkansen eTicket system merger with JR West which operates the Toyama~Ishikawa section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. There are a few minor updates on the JR Central EX system, details on the EX site (Japanese), but nothing that indicates more interoperability.

The challenges of operating a massive ticketing system smoothly while rebuilding it must be huge. It will be a longish migration of many moving pieces and even though we know what is going away, it’s not exactly clear what the finished service will include. Let’s hope JR East is up to the job when the real fun starts on March 14, and stay focused while aggressively fixing the inevitable bugs and problems during the transition.

UPDATE
Right on cue JR East Eki-net and JR West e5489 systems have been experiencing occasional credit card processing problems for Shinkansen ticket purchases. These 2 systems are being integrated for Shinkansen eTicket service.

New JR East eTicket service launches March 14

JR East is launching their new eTicket service starting March 14 via the eki-net app for iOS and Android, a refresh for the venerable online eki-net service will be coming as well. The new service is more of a start line than a new start. The eki-net app and website are what we have not changed much these past few months, the change will a gradual ramp up to replace both the old-style online eki-net Shinkansen ticket service and the current Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket service, and migrate to ticketless transit on JR East lines with the major JP transit cards. As anticipated the basic concept is similar to the JR Central SmartEX service and app that registers any major transit IC card for Shinkansen eTicketing. JR East is taking it a few steps further with regular express train eTickets but it’s not clear yet how or if this works outside of Suica.

The proof will be in the pudding when new eki-net Shinkansen reservations start on February 14. We should also expect a new Suica App updated for the new eTicket system that includes both Shinkansen and hopefully, regular express trains. Let’s hope it’s the nice valentine present JR East wants it to be.

The Good

  • new eki-net membership is free
  • All major transit IC cards (ICOCA, Toica, PASMO, etc.) can be registered and used for eki-net Shinkansen eTicketing
  • All JR East Shinkansen ticketing and regular express trains ticketing are covered but it’s not clear yet how regular express eTickets work with Mobile Suica
  • Narita Express eTickets are finally easy to reserve and use with Mobile Suica
  • Multi-person eTickets purchases
  • Major credit cards/debit cards accepted (confirming, if non-JP issue cards are a problem this will go in the Bad/Ugly slot)
  • The iOS eki-net app supports Face ID/Touch ID login
  • It appears that JR East will not be following the JR Central approach of different services with different discount

The Bad

  • The new eTicket service is still called eki-net
  • Account creation and updating can only be done online, not in the eki-net app

The Ugly

  • Since the new service has not started yet eki-net app is the same old eki-net online service in a smartphone app with a better UI. The app is not multilingual which does not bode well for a multilingual Suica App in time for the Tokyo Olympics, but we’ll see how things pan out when the new backend system goes online

JR Central Online EX Ticketing Extends to Kyushu Shinkansen in 2022

JR Central/JR West/JR Kyushu issued a joint PR release that JR Central’s EX Shinkansen eTicket system, encompassing both EXPress Reservation and smartEX services, will be adding JR Kyushu Hakata~Kagomashima Shinkansen ticketing in spring 2022.

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.

Meanwhile, JR East is due to rollout a new eTicketing system in spring 2020.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, outside white area cards are due to join Super Suica in 2021

iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica Warning for EX App users

One of the early issues of using Apple Pay Suica was that the Suica card ID number would change every time the card was removed and re-added to Wallet, migrated to a new iPhone, or transferred from iPhone to Apple Watch. This was no problem for using Suica for transit and payment, but soft-linked services like JRE POINT and the JR Central Shinkansen EX App were a problem. Users had to manually update the Apple Pay Suica card ID number in those service accounts. If they did not, those services stopped working.

The good news is that Mobile Suica and Apple Pay fixed the issue in 2017. The bad news is that the issue is back again. JR East has done a lot of backend work on the Mobile Suica system to get the iOS 13 direct Suica card creation Wallet feature in place. I moved by main Apple Pay Suica card to test it on Apple Watch and noticed that the Suica card ID had changed. I thought I might need to issue an all points alert, but close investigation revealed that JR East has really improved things on the Mobile Suica system.

The official JR East Mobile Suica support position is that Suica card ID numbers can change when removed and re-added to Wallet. Softlinked Apple Pay Suica services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation) and Touch and Go Shinkansen stop working when the Suica ID number changes and need to have the registration information updated to re-link the services.

My own experience is the Suica card ID number changes, once. After that, moving Suica around doesn’t change anything. I suspect this is related to the changes in iOS 13 Wallet. Another interesting change is that the JRE POINT system automatically updates a changed Suica ID number from Mobile Suica. It just works. Hurray!

Softlinked Apple Pay Suica services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation) and Touch and Go Shinkansen are still a problem. Touch and Go Shinkansen users simply register their device again at a JR East station kiosk. Apple Pay Suica & Express Card EX App users need to open up Suica App, tap the Express Reservation option and login to EX via the shitty little mobile EX browser window. You should see a “Your Registered Device has changed” and a “Update” button. Tap that and all is done. You can confirm the updated Suica ID number in EX App.

I do not have a smartEX account and cannot confirm this, but I suspect users need to update any changed Suica ID number manually in the EX/smartEX Apps. In the future I hope that JR Central does a better job of dynamically connecting their EX system with Mobile Suica.

Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen 2020

Suica is the only transit card in the world on mobile that covers both high-speed rail and regular transit. Apple Pay Suica can be used for eTicket Shinkansen travel on all Shinkansen lines and ticketless travel in designated regions on JR East Shinkansen lines. However, Shinkansen eTickets are often more about convenience over price: paper tickets usually have better on the spot discounts unless you dig deeper into the system and sign up for services in advance.

Shinkansen eTicketing is a evolutionary mix of 2 different ticketing systems built by the separate JR company groups that operate the Shinkansen lines:

  • JR East created and used Mobile Suica cloud eTickets downloaded to Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica and Osaifu Keitai for travel on Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Hokkaido, Joestsu, Hokuriku Shinkansen. This was replace by a new Shinkansen eTicket service called Eki-net. This is a cloud linked service very similar to smartEX.
  • JR Central/JR West created and use the EX system (smartEX and Express Reserve) that links a online purchased eTicket to a preregistered plastic transit smartcard for travel on Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Sanyo (Osaka~Hakata) Shinkansen. It is not a download eTicketing service for mobile devices because JR Central/JR West don’t have a Mobile Suica cloud-like transit card system. In this case Apple Pay Suica is just another linked transit card number, EX doesn’t know or care if it’s a plastic card or not.

JR East also offers ticketless Shinkansen travel for any Touch and Go service registered Apple Pay Suica or plastic transit IC card. Just like EX, the Touch and Go system doesn’t know or care if it’s a real card or not.