Suica App Commuter Pass Limitations

A reader asked about Suica commuter passes and limitations. It’s a good question because there are Suica App limitations to be aware of when creating a virtual commuter Suica pass for Apple Pay use.

Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association Map
The Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association project started in 2007 and achieved transit and e-money interoperability in 2013. It continues to evolve and incorporate other transit smartcard systems into a single standard. Wikipedia

Let’s review the limitations of the current Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association standard. The various JP transit cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) are tightly bound to the physical rail network fare area of the card issuer (JR East, JR West, etc.). Transit IC cards are compatible and allow users to travel in any transit IC area with any card, but the system architecture is limited to a single fare area per trip. It does not allow continuous travel between 2 different fare areas (such as Suica and TOICA) on the same trip.

Unfortunately this results in ‘gotcha gaps’ when a user might start a trip from a Suica region station but exit in an area outside the Suica region or an area with no transit IC card coverage at all. Going from Tokyo to Minobu for example: Suica works fine up to JR East operated Kofu but the JR Central operated Minobu line that starts there is outside any transit IC card fare area. Good old paper tickets or cold hard cash only please. If you make the mistake of traveling from Tokyo to Minobu with Suica, the train conductor or a station attendant will issue a paper voucher that you have to use to get Suica reset for transit use when back in a Suica area station. This kind of nonsense should disappear with Super Suica in 2021.

Metropolitan areas like Tokyo (Suica & PASMO) are highly integrated fare areas that operate as one virtual region covering all possible commuter routes that transverse different rail company lines such as JR East, Metro, Seibu, etc. Buses are also part of the mix and covered by Suica or PASMO cards.

Apple Pay Suica supports Suica commuter passes of course but there are limitations when creating them with Suica App:

  • The start point must be a JR East station
  • No bus, Shinkansen commuter pass (FREX), or student commuter pass options are available

Suica FREX Shinkansen commuter passes that cover both Shinkansen and regular lines in the JR East Suica region can be purchased via a web link (virtual), or JR Station (plastic) then loaded into Apple Pay like any Suica card.

Suica bus commuter passes have to be purchased at a bus company window such as Seibu, Tokyo Metro, Odakyu, Tokyu, etc. depending on the bus line. Confirm with the bus company that a Mobile Suica commuter purchase is available for the commute route. Purchase the Mobile Suica commuter pass then show the attendant your iPhone so they can record the Suica ID card number.

Suica commuter students passes are available for university students is the Mobile Suica web site but are complicated by the credit card requirement for using Apple Pay to setup a virtual Suica. Not every university student has a credit card. Mobile Suica support recommends purchasing a plastic Suica commuter pass at a JR East station then transferring it to Apple Pay, but there are some potential glitches. Apple support:

Commuter Suica cards that use romaji names or international phone numbers are not supported.
If you are trying to add a second Suica card to Apple Pay, make sure the name on the second card matches the first name on your My Suica and Commuter Suica card. If you have different names on multiple cards, download and register in the iOS Suica app, and call Suica Support at 050-2016-5005.

For complex Suica commuter route options not covered in Suica App, Mobile Suica support has a web link to apply for a virtual Suica commuter pass.

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