The Yamanote Line was not running this morning due to a signal malfunction. Yet everything looked like any normal Monday morning commute so I had no idea when I entered Asagaya station. Then I heard the announcement on the platform. The train came, I got on. Again everything looked normal, nothing out of place, no unusual crowding. Everybody seemed to know what they were doing. As the train pulled into Nakano station the train conductor gave a helpful rundown of all the train transfer options with transfer protocol in effect closing with, “Please use smartphone and tablet train information apps to find your best route.” All the major transit apps, Apple Maps, Google Maps, et al., include real time transit stoppages and re-route automatically, but don’t always give you the best train route for the situation.
I got off and took a break in Beck’s Coffee Shop, planning a new commute route while enjoying morning coffee. It can be fun to take a leisurely commute knowing I can download a delay certificate, take any route I want, get to the office late and still get paid for the whole day. Usually I take the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku to Gotanda but decided to go via the longest route: ride to Tokyo station, change to the Keihin Tohoku line, ride to Kamata, transfer to Tokyu Ikegami line and get off at my usual station. Here are a few simple pointers for using a Apple Pay Suica or PASMO commuter pass when transfer protocol is in effect.
What is it? The Tokyo train region transfer protocol is a visual inspection re-rerouting procedure that goes into effect for commuter pass and paper ticket holders when a train line stoppage prevents them from reaching their destination via the normal route. All the connecting train line companies cooperate and allow commuter pass or paper ticket holders to travel by train and go through gates for free with a quick glance of their commuter pass or paper ticket. Regular Transit IC cards, including non-commuter pass Apple Pay Suica and PASMO, cannot be used with transfer protocol and pay regular fare at the gate.
How to use it It’s very simple: do not tap in or out at transit gates, go through the manned gate and show your Apple Pay Suica or PASMO commuter pass to the station staff. This is easy to do with iPhone Wallet as the Suica • PASMO card displays the commute route and validity dates. Apple Watch is a little tricky: bring up the card via the Apple Pay double click, tap the card and slightly scroll down so that the commute route shows.
You are still able to use transfer protocol if you have tapped in, just make sure that you do not tap out. Once you tap out, the fare is deducted and there is no refund. Go to the manned station gate, show your commuter pass and go through. At your final destination tell the station staff you tapped in and they will reset your Suica or PASMO. If you do not do this you will get a gate error when you tap in on your next transit.
As for today’s ride without the Yamanote Line? It was fun taking completely different, and much more expensive, commute route. Thanks to transfer protocol, my commuter pass covered it all. I got to my final station with so much time to spare I didn’t even bother downloading a delay certificate.
Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate Transit Cards have a problem: it would be great to have these cards available on mobile wallet platforms (Osaifu Keitai, Apple Pay, etc.) however, the whole point of region cards is to promote region affiliate transit companies and service benefits for the people who live there. There are region affiliate transit points and services for everybody, discounts and point rebates for elderly and disabled users, commute plans and so on, subsidized by prefectural and local city governments.
Hence despite the Suica logo on them, region affiliate cards are not available from JR East. They are only available from region affiliate bus offices. But it’s a pain getting them, commute plan renewal requires another trip to the bus office and cash recharge is the only option. Suica 2 in 1 would be infinitely more useful and user friendly on mobile. Region affiliate users are certainly happy to have a card that covers all of their transit needs but it doesn’t bring them into the Mobile Suica era.
But mobile is a two edged sword. On one hand you want the convenience of Mobile Suica, on the other hand region cards need to promote subsidized services for a particular location, keeping them local on a wide mobile platform and restricting access for special services with certain eligibility requirements (local disabled and elderly residents) is a challenge. How does one promote targeted regional services on widely available mobile platforms like Mobile Suica on Apple Pay?
The Suica App mobile fix Hmmm, this sounds like a similar problem with student commuter passes. JR East and customers want to do away with the drudgery of going to the local JR East station ticket window to confirm student ID validity, nevertheless, student ID validity must be confirmed before a student commuter pass can be purchased. Mobile Suica has supported student commuter passes but students have to go to a local JR East office to validate and activate it.
Mobile Suica will address this problem on February 13 with a system update and new version of Suica App (v3.1.0) that adds support for in-app purchasing and renewing student commute plans. Another Mobile Suica update on March 12 will add Tokyo region day pass purchase support. Think of these as selective local services on a widely available mobile platform. Let’s see how this approach can be applied to Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate cards.
1) Region affiliate mobile issue When I made my Apple Wallet transit card wish list mockup, I thought it might be nice to have all the new Suica 2 in 1 cards available directly in Wallet app along with Mobile ICOCA (coming in 2023).
Apple Pay WAON deals with this problem in a smart way: regular WAON can be added directly in Wallet app, regional WAON cards are added to Wallet with WAON app. The beauty of issuing specialty WAON cards in the app is they have region specific goodies attached: a portion of the region WAON card transaction goes to a local government development fund.
This approach is a perfect fit for region affiliate Suica cards on mobile with local perks, bonus local transit points and so on when issuing cards on mobile.
2) Suica2 in 1 commuter pass purchases and limited eligibility card issue There are a few more hurdles to clear before Suica 2 in 1 can join the mobile era: region affiliate commute plan purchase and renewal, limited eligibility card issue (for elder and disabled users).
Let’s say you are a totra commuter who rides a region affiliate bus and a JR East train. In this case you need 2 separate commute plans on your Suica 2 in 1 totra card, one for the region affiliate bus, one for JR East. The commuters plans must be purchased separately: the region affliliate commuter pass is bought at the bus office, the JR East section is then purchased added at a JR East station ticket office. It’s a complex hassle. JR East stations are all cashless but only a few region affiliate bus offices take credit cards…and so it goes. How nice it would be to do this with an app and pay with Apple Pay.
Mobile Suica already hosts this kind of complex commute plan configuration but not in Suica App. Mobile PASMO and PASMO App are hosted on the JR East system, basically rebranded Mobile Suica, and easily configure complex bus + train commute plans from multiple transit operators for mobile purchase.
This leaves limited eligibility card issue. The February 13 Mobile Suica update adds student commuter pass pre-registration and ID verification uploading via the Mobile Suica member website. The student reservers a pass entering school information, commute route and uploads a picture of their school ID. Approved student commuter pass reservations are then purchased in Suica App. This ID verification method can be used for issuing elder and disabled Suica 2 in 1 cards. It’s still a manual authentication process that digital My Number cards will, hopefully, transform into a simple automatic one with instant verification of necessary personal information.
One of the really interesting things about Suica 2 in 1 is that the next generation format is the very first Suica card that supports disability fares. Up until now disability fare users have been limited to paper passes inspected at manned transit gates.
JR East plans to drastically reduce the number of manned transit gate areas. Before this happens, mobile support for all Suica cards of every kind, especially the new Suica 2 in 1 features, must be in place. The pieces of the solution are there, it only a matter of JR East integrating them into a Mobile Suica system and Suica App update.
One Suica App to rule them all If we are promoting region affiliate Suica cards does it make sense to do it all in Suica App or have individually branded local apps for totra, nolbé, cherica, et al? One main goal of Suica 2 in 1 is cost reduction and infrastructure sharing. Despite all the different names and card artwork these are Suica cards with all the Suica benefits and JR East managing the Suica infrastructure for region affiliates.
I’d argue it doesn’t make sense nor does it fit with cost reduction goals to do a bunch of re-skinned local Suica Apps when JR East is making a bunch of replicas. Better to focus efforts on making Suica App a streamlined easy to use app with all the necessary tools for managing mobile region affiliate cards. And because physical cards remain an important part of the Suica platform strategy, Suica App must also add a physical card iPhone recharge feature similar to what Octopus App and Navigo App offer.
All in all I expect that 2023, which will see the launch of the highly anticipated JR West Mobile ICOCA service, will be a big year for Mobile Suica and Suica App too.
Note: this post is marked obsolete as construction was completed and remains only for reference
The JR Shibuya station platform and track realignment of the Yamanote Inner Circle line takes place October 23~24 (unless bad weather postpones it to November 20~21). All Yamanote Inner Circle train service between Ikebukuro and Osaki stations is suspended all day, both days.
JR East posted multilingual information in English, Chinese, Korean (deleted after the construction was finished) that includes detour transfer guidance to non-JR lines during the line closure. The English wording is fuzzy because the exact distinctions between mag-strip commuter passes, Suica commuter passes and Suica IC transit fare are not always clear to the reader. It’s also important to understand detour transfer rules.
Detour Transfers Tokyo area transit operators have special detour transfer rules to deal with transit situations when there is an unexpected stoppage and in-transit users suddenly need to use a different transit route from the normal one to reach their destination. Detour transfers have one rule for Suica or PASMO commuter passes, both mobile and plastic: do not use automatic transit gates during the detour portion of the route, go to a station agent window gate instead and use the reader. The station agent checks the validity of the commuter pass and waves you through, the NFC equivalent of visually inspecting printed tickets and passes. Regular non-commuter pass Suica, PASMO and other transit cards are outside of detour transfer rules and are charged normal IC transit fare.
For example, my normal commute route from JR Asagaya to Tokyu Ikegami has a line transfer point at Gotanda. A Gotanda transfer isn’t possible during the service suspension. Instead I plan to transfer at Shibuya to the Tokyu Toyoko line, ride to Jiyugaoka > transfer to Tokyu Ooimachi line > transfer at Hatanodai to Tokyu Ikegami line > exit at Ikegami.
In this case I make 2 automatic gate reads and 2 station agent window reads with my Apple Watch Suica commute pass: the JR Asagaya start point (automatic gate as always), leaving JR Shibuya (JR station agent window reader) transfer to Tokyu Toyoko line (Tokyu station agent window reader), Tokyu Ikegami (automatic gate as always).
This poster at the Tokyu Ikegami station clearly shows the ‘do not use automatic gates during detour rule,’ and which kinds of tickets can be used for detour transfers: Suica and PASMO commuter passes and all mag strip passes and tickets. For Apple Pay Suica and PASMO commuter passes, always use the station agent window reader on the detour portion and you’ll reach your final destination even with a long detour.
More fallout from the VISA JP Apple Pay agreement: JR East announced they will implement 3D Secure in iOS Suica App, requiring authorization for all non-Apple Pay in-app purchases.
Suica App is convenient because it works hand in glove with Apple Pay and app registered Japanese issue credit cards, giving users the widest possible card coverage. Since 2016, Suica App was the only work around solution for using VISA JP cards for Apple Pay Suica recharge.
We’ll see a Suica App v3.0.4 update when 3D Secure is in place, likely after the new Eki-Net launches June 26. PASMO App already uses 3D Secure for registering cards but not for in-app purchases.
With direct Wallet addition of Suica cards starting with iOS 13 coupled with last year’s migration of Shinkansen eTicket functionality to Eki-Net, and the addition of VISA JP Apple Pay in-app support, Suica App is less essential than ever. The only reason for using it now is new commute plan purchases, Auto-Charge setup (which remains the 3D Secure free way to recharge) and receiving Suica Pocket recharge rewards.
UPDATE July 20, 2021 3D Secure is now required for registering credit cards in Suica App. So far there are no reports of 3D Secure confirmation required for Suica App in-app recharge or Green Car Seat upgrades. This matches my own limited testing. I’ll update this post if anything changes.
There are limitations: (1) only end to end transit on JR East lines qualifies for point service, (2) everything is tied into the JRE POINT system. The campaign comes in 2 flavors:
Off Peak Point Service (Suica App (Regular) Commute Plans): start a work commute at your station during designated ‘Off Peak’ time slots. Off Peak Point Service runs from March 15, 2022 ~ March 31, 2023. A new but very limited Off Peak Point Service will go into effect on April 1, 2023, this guide will be updated before then.
Repeat Point Service (Regular Suica): 10 of the same Suica fare trips on JR East lines earns a free trip in JRE POINT, additional same fare transits in the same month earn additional points. Repeat Point Service is basically the Suica equivalent of paper ticket ‘buy ten trips and get one free’, a transit institution that has been around forever but is being phased out.
1. Off Peak Point Service This is a service for regular Mobile Suica Commute Plan and Commuter Suica cards. 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, 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 Points and Commute Times The first 1~4 commutes in the month earn 5 JRE POINT for each commute, 5~20 commutes earn 25 JRE POINT for each commute. 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 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. Repeat Point Service The campaign for regular Suica users who go to the office occasionally but not enough to invest in a commuter pass. Ride JR East lines 10 times a month at the same fare and earn a free ride in JRE POINT. Same fare transits over 10 times in the same month earn an additional 10% of each 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 extra transit users need to do other than have their Suica card 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 JRE POINT Suica off peak commute and repeat point service campaigns might hit the sweet spot…if you ride JR East lines to work. Unfortunately limitations and conditions make it difficult for many commuters who ride multiple rail company lines.
JR East and other transit companies need to cooperate for reward campaigns, discounts, day passes and more that work across entire regions and reward point systems. There are many innovative things JR East could also be doing: accumulated mileage calculated reward point campaign tailored for each user, yearly commuter passes at a half year price for corporate customers, repurpose empty JR East hotels at Shinkansen friendly regional stations for telework satellite offices that help build regional business.
Instead of innovation and simplicity, we get complex and unfriendly ‘Tonosama’ style campaigns from stodgy transit companies used to having their way with customers. The COVID era transit crisis demands big bold ideas. Japanese transit companies must truly innovate to make transit essential and safe again.