SmartGo Staple: a smart Mobile Suica solution for COVID era business travel

As more companies transition work style away from daily commuting to a central office to telework with direct business trips from home, there is less need for commuter passes but that means more corporate virtual paperwork and paper trails for filing and processing transit expenses. How nice it would be if Mobile Suica had a plug-in for SF expense reporting. It does actually: SmartGo Staple a co-venture between JR East and NTT Communications.

The service is straightforward: for a ¥1,000 (w/VISA card option) or ¥600 (w/o) per Mobile ID monthly service fee, SmartGo Staple provides live Mobile Suica ID SF transaction data of registered accounts to corporate management and accounting, who then calculate and reimburse employee on the go, or teleworking at home for corporate related Mobile Suica use, reducing the paperwork at all levels. The flexibility of Mobile Suica and Suica App which discretely attaches a credit card to a Suica card, allows users to set up a Suica card just for corporate use with a corporate credit card attached. This is the idea behind the SmartGo Staple prepaid VISA card option which management can ‘recharge’ remotely.

It’s a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is that with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use. Commuter passes are the only reason for all those Japanese Transit IC cards. One Mobile Suica does it all. There are still weak spots, i.e. non SF Suica ID # attached services like smartEX and Shinkansen eTickets. Using a transit card ID number to attach separate services is flexible but corralling all the separate transaction histories into one expense report is still a chore.

Young employees tell the department manager to get with the times

The Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate Transit Card

The Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate transit card ‘totra’ launches today, the first card based on the September 2018 joint JR East/Sony Imaging Products & Solutions/JR East Mechatronics announcement. The joint roles are defined as: (1) JR East for promotion, coordinating and supporting the implementation process with local transit companies, (2) Sony for developing new FeliCa additions necessary for 2 in 1 and supporting ICT (Information Communication Technology) transit card developments, (3) JREM for issue, testing and qualification of 2 in 1 cards.

Based on information released by the totra partners, the end product closely aligns with the 2018 announcement:

  • 2 in 1 Commuter Passes: a JR East Suica commuter pass and a region affiliate commuter pass
  • 2 in 1 Points: JRE POINT and region affiliate transit points
  • Other region affiliate services: a totra card for disabled users with special discount fares/subsidies, welfare points (starting April 2021) for elder and disabled transit users

…all in one Suica card. This is more important that it seems and solves some long standing problems. Let’s look at the situation with the wonderfully useful Transit IC card chart created by Wiki user ButuCC.

Transit IC interoperability chart

The core square contains the 10 mutual use ‘Transit IC’ cards with many IC arrows pointing to region transit cards outside of the square. This means the core Transit IC cards work on those local transit systems but only one way. There are no IC arrows pointing in towards the core region because there are no regional transit cards mutually compatible with all core Transit IC cards…until now: totra Suica is the first region transit card that works nationwide.

2 in 1 Suica combines the ‘outside the square’ region card with the core Suica card. totra is a Suica card, mutually compatible with all Transit IC, but also a local transit card with new services built on Suica infrastructure. One example: the first transit IC card for disabled users that automatically gives them the local region discount fare and subsidy, but only for the totra fare region, not outside it. Disabled fares are highly regional with local prefecture and city governments providing transit services and fare discounts. It’s a trade off but it does provide a transit IC card option for disabled users instead of paper tickets with a ID card for the first time.

Super Suica or something else?
So is this Super Suica or not? The totra Suica logo explains some of what is going on inside the card. There is a ‘+’ mark which indicates ‘Suica plus affiliate’ that combines Suica with an attached financial service like credit card recharge. This is the Suica plus mark you see on all Mobile Suica cards including Mizuho Suica (iOS) and Rakuten Suica (Android).

There is also a ‘••’ mark which indicates FeliCa Pocket services, FeliCa applets on a physical card or Osaifu Keitai card that provide different services in a single card (transit, points, ID, etc.). You can see the ‘••’ Suica logo on Rinkai Suica and Monorail Suica and the both marks on the Suica/credit card combos like VIEW. The Rinkai Suica design also looks like totra which uses a similar blue left instead of right trapezoid.

FeliCa Dude points out in an interesting Twitter thread with treastrain that 2 in 1 is a new kind of Suica plus affiliate card issued outside of JR East with no financial service attached to it. As treastrain notes, it’s weird that Suica plus is being used for a rechargeable ¥500 deposit Suica with no attached credit card, but we are in uncharted territory with new features to come.

Suica 2 in 1 is the first Suica based on the new FeliCa Standard SD2 card. We can’t see exactly how FeliCa SD2 is used to deliver 2 in 1 functionality but FeliCa Dude gives us an excellent rundown of 2 important additions: Extended Overlap Service (points and passes) and Value Limited Purse Service (purse). These are tools for JR East and the other Transit IC operators to integrate services in new ways, implement their own version of 2 in 1, raise the balance limit and more. The new FeliCa SD2 features have big implications. Like all things the Super part of Super Suica depends on what JR East and the other CJRC members (Congress of Japanese Railway Cybernetics) mutually accomplish using these new FeliCa and Suica parts. The more region transit cards that migrate and merge inside the Transit IC square while addressing regional needs, the better.

totra Suica 2 in 1 has 2 issue numbers for JR East and the region transit card operator. JR East owns the SF (stored fare) purse, which means they own the float.
Suica 2 in 1 extensively uses the new FeliCa Standard SD2 Extended Overlap Service

What about mobile?
It’s important to remember that 2 in 1 Suica extends Transit IC coverage, including Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO, into new transit areas. 2 in 1 Suica is limited to plastic issue at this point so those users do not have a mobile option. 2 in 1 Mobile Suica service depends on resolving 4 things:

  • Will Mobile FeliCa be upgraded with the new FeliCa SD2 functions?
  • Will Mobile FeliCa be updated on Osaifu Keitai and Apple devices?
  • Will JR East manage Mobile Suica card issue for outside transit companies
  • Is there an (local 2 in 1 Suica transit card) app for that?

Mobile Suica already hosts Suica ‘+’ cards (Mizuho Suica and Rakuten Suica) and FeliCa Pocket services are designed for physical cards and mobile. 2 in 1 is a new card so the first hurdle is upgrading Mobile FeliCa to support SD2 card features and pushing that update to devices.

FeliCa Dude posted some tweets that suggest Mobile FeliCa 4.x on Android devices can be updated but industry practice on the Android side so far has been doing a pre-install and leaving it at that. If users want newer Mobile FeliCa features, get a new device. Apple can certainly update Mobile FeliCa on their custom embedded secure element, but will they?If nothing else I think the recent addition of Garmin Pay Suica and Fitbit Pay Suica indicates that FeliCa Networks is getting better at pushing new services from Mobile FeliCa Cloud.

The app question is another hurdle and a bit complicated. The whole 2 in 1 concept means 2 different managed services are bundled in a single card. Who manages what? While it makes sense to add 2 in 1 Suica non-JR East local commuter routes for purchase and renewal in Mobile Suica and Suica App, local area transit point account management needs to be handled in a separate app. Does each 2 in 1 Suica locale handle that? That approach makes sense but JR East could certainly help with coordinating support and leveraging common resources and infrastructure to eliminate redundancy.

Summary
2021 is only the start line for 2 in 1 Suica with totra and Iwate Green Card. 2022 will see 6 more 2 in1 Suica cards, probably more, it will be the real coming out year. By then Mobile ICOCA will be on the horizon, I think we’ll know if 2 in 1 is the start of Super Suica…or not. If the other Transit IC partners simply copy what JR East is doing with 2 in 1 region cards, that will be super enough for the people who live, work and go to school in those regions.

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 qualifies 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 comes to Fitbit Charge 4 on March 4 (updated)

UPDATE: Mobile Suica for Fitbit Charge 4 launches March 4

JR East announced Suica on FitBit Charge 4 service starting in March 4, just before the March 13 Suica transit tweaks go into effect. It’s exactly the same Mobile FeliCa Cloud powered package used for Garmin Pay Suica and wena Suica services that launched in 2020, with the same limitations: no plastic card transfers, no commuter pass support, credit card recharge limited to Google Pay.

These limitations are not deal breakers. With many company people teleworking during the COVID crisis there is less need for commuter passes. For users who want the complete Mobile Suica service on a wearable, Apple Watch is still the only game in town. Nevertheless this is a welcome addition for many Android users in Japan.

The Fitbit JP page has a few Suica details. It appears to be a Japan model only device, not a global NFC device…and only the black model support Suica. It’s too early to tell if this development has anything to do with Google finally closing the Fitbit acquisition or if this is the first step towards supporting major FeliCa payment services like iD, QUICPay, Waon, etc. Robust seamless global NFC support across Pixel and Fitbit devices from anywhere would be the first real challenge to Apple Pay Suica on iPhone and Apple Watch.