Apple Pay transit cards (Suica, PASMO, and ICOCA) and e-Money cards (WAON and nanaco) are different from Apple Pay payment cards in that a transit or e-Money card prepaid stored value, the card balance, is stored locally on the card itself and can only exist on a single device. Apple Pay credit/debit cards coexist simultaneously on multiple devices, not Suica, PASMO, ICOCA and other transit cards like Octopus, Clipper, SmarTrip, TAP, or e-Money cards like nanaco and WAON.
These stored value cards have to be removed from the old iPhone first, then transferred to the new iPhone. There are 2 ways to transfer cards: automatic transfer with iOS 17 Setup Assistant and manual transfer with Wallet app.
Automatic card transfer with iOS 17 Quick Start Setup Assistant Quick Start device to device data transfer is the best way to setup a new iPhone, and iOS 17 Set Assistant now automatically transfers all payment, transit and e-Money cards from the old iPhone to the new iPhone. It is very easy to do and highly recommended.
Place the previous iPhone near the new iPhone. iOS 17 Setup Assistant has a new Wallet section that lets you select Wallet cards to transfer in the ‘Make This Your New iPhone’ splash screen. Either select the Wallet items you want to transfer or just leave it all up to Set Assistant. Setup Assistant automatically transfers Wallet items to the new iPhone. As always, make sure all devices have a good internet connection.
The Suica 2 step: manual card transfer in Wallet app Users can do the traditional Suica 2 step of manually removing cards from the previous iPhone Wallet app before adding them in the new iPhone Wallet app.
Step 1: Remove Suica from Wallet on the previous iPhone On the old iPhone go to Wallet > tap Suica or other transit card > tap ‘More’ ˚˚˚ in the upper right corner > scroll to the bottom > tap Remove This Card. Don’t worry, this does not delete the card. Apple Pay automatically migrates and safely stores the card on Apple Pay iCloud for you.
Step 2: Add card in Wallet on the new iPhone On the new iPhone make sure you are signed in with the same Apple ID, open Wallet and tap Add Card “+” Tap Previous Cards > confirm the Suica or transit card you want to add is selected > tap Continue The registered card name and balance will be showing in the Add Card screen Tap Next to add the card to Wallet or tap Add This Card to Wallet Later to cancel
Transfer Suica from previous Apple Watch to new Apple Watch Apple Watch Suica users upgrading to a new Apple Watch is easy with watchOS 10. From the Set up your Apple Watch • Set up as new or restore from a backup section: If you’ve set up another Apple Watch with your current iPhone, a screen appears that says Make This Your New Apple Watch. Tap Apps & Data and Settings to see how Express Setup will configure your new watch. Then tap Continue. If you want to choose how your new watch is set up, tap Customize Settings. Then choose a backup from another previous Apple Watch to restore.
You can also add cards manually in Wallet as outlined in the previous iPhone section.
What about Suica App and other card apps?
If your Suica, PASMO, ICOCA or e-Money card is registered in the coressponding app, your account and password information will migrate to the new device like any regular iOS app when using device to device data transfer. The apps will automatically pick up the card information from Wallet but you will need to login to access the card app account. If you deleted the app before device to device data transfer, you will need to manually enter account and password information to login when re-adding the app. See the Suica App and PASMO App guide for account setup details.
e-Money card apps ask for the Japanese mobile number used for registering the card in the app and send a verification code via SMS.
Robust network connection is extremely important! Make sure iPhone has a good WiFi or 4G/5G network connection and confirm you are outside of the 2am~4am JST Mobile Suica • Mobile PASMO system maintenance window. Do not use free WiFi or carrier auto-connect WiFi, they are notoriously unreliable. Don’t worry about losing your card SF account balance or commute plan information. Apple Pay iCloud and the Suica • PASMO systems preserve all of your card information. Just make sure that you are signed in with the same Apple ID on your new iPhone and Apple Pay is turned on. Remember that even a good WiFi network connection can quickly bog down when setting up a new iPhone, make sure you have a clean connection when adding Wallet cards.
Suica, PASMO, ICOCA card ID number changes The Suica or PASMO card ID number may change when transferred to a new iPhone or Apple Watch Wallet. Linked services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation), Touch and Go Shinkansen and JR East Ekinet Shinkansen eTickets stop working when the Suica, PASMO, ICOCA ID number changes and users must manually update information with each linked service account to re-link services with the new ID #. For Suica and PASMO getting full ID number requires a transit card issuer app such as Suica or PASMO app, ICOCA displays the full ID number in Wallet card details.
Go on over to YouTube and check out Wendover Productions How Airlines Quietly Became Banks. The video neatly explains what industry insiders and analysts have know for some time: flying passengers is a money losing business, the profit is made on selling services with loyalty programs, loyalty programs that are in reality clever financial instruments…loyalty program banks if you will. Reward points are like virtual money, but they can be treated like futures trading in that they will be traded in for certain services at a certain value…at some point. The untaxed reality gap is where all the fun happens: there are ways to earn real money off virtual money without a fixed holding period.
This is why airlines have made loyalty programs into separate subsidiary companies that are worth more than the money losing parent airline companies. The key takeaway: airlines are in the business turning a profit by selling services with attached loyalty programs to passengers riding on money losing airlines. Starbucks does a similar thing with their Starbucks card loyalty program which is also called a massive bank, all that unspent money on all those cards, similar to the Suica float. The Japanese point economic zones, Rakuten, PayPay and NTT docomo dPay have been doing all this for years already.
Is there anybody doing the same thing with rail transit with ridership still reeling in the post-Covid era? Very, very few. How many rail transit companies have a loyalty program similar to what airlines do: earning and using rewards across many different services? You probably can’t come up with one. JR East JRE POINT is a rail transit company loyalty program, the only comprehensive one that exists right now and it will formally joined with a real bank too in 2024 with the launch of JRE BANK. The recently launched JR West WESTER aims to become loyalty program, perhaps even a loyalty bank. Let’s take a closer look at how the comparisons stack up internationally.
The key difference is that Suica and Octopus are both transit and payments cards, in other words a payment platform. Owning the payments side is key for driving loyalty programs. It’s interesting too that Suica, Octopus and EasyCard used FeliCa and MIFARE that allowed them to build payment platforms that are independent of EMV. Another interesting aspect is that while JR East is a private transit company, Octopus is mostly government owned but doesn’t act like a public transit owned company.
All of the western transit companies are government owned and expected to be ‘public transit’ where making profit isn’t the bottom line. The reason why most MIFARE based transit cards never evolved beyond being transit cards (Taiwan’s EasyCard being the outstanding case) and leave the point reward franchises to the EMV open loop card brands, comes down to local politics of public transit. But is this really in the public interest?
My argument in countless posts over the years is that leaving everything to EMV open loop card brands is giving away a money franchise to the EMV consortium. It leaves money on the table that could have been used to build local transit linked services and infrastructure ecosystem that benefits all transit users and encourages transit ecosystem use.
Japanese ridership and fare income will only go down from here so Japanese transit companies need to be like airlines and earn money from selling service extras. Much better for long term transit sustainability to become a loyalty bank that leverages transit infrastructure loyalty linked services into profit. A close examination of the 10 Transit IC cards gives us a good idea of how open loop support in Japan will play out.
Outside of JRE POINT and WESTER, most of Transit IC cards except for TOICA and PiTaPa have some form of point bonus rewards for riding transit. Most are bare boned, manual affairs that involve a trip to the station ticket kiosk machine to load reward points. Tokyo area PASMO member transit companies have their own point systems, as do Osaka area PiTaPa transit companies which is the problem: despite sharing the same Transit IC card brand, the various point systems have no compatibility or synergy. There are a bunch of point card fiefdoms that cannot evolve into loyalty program platform. PiTiPa is the worst off of all, a failure with a shrinking user base despite being a credit card post-pay transit card.
The smallest transit cards, by user number, without robust point systems are exactly the first systems targeted for open loop by the SBI Holdings backed Japanese open loop Quadrac consortium (Quadrac for backend servers, Japan Signal for gate readers, VISA for sponsorship, SMBC for stera payment processing) : Fukuoka City Transit (hayaken) and Nankai (PiTaPa). They can implement open loop without diluting their loyalty programs because they don’t have any. It’s a similar case with ‘shared’ transit cards like PASMO.
PASMO members TOKYU and Tokyo Metro have stronger point systems silos but those silos do not translate across the PASMO ecosystem. Users can dump earned points into their PASMO card with a point recharge but there is no method for tying point rewards to services across the entire ecosystem. The dilemma for PASMO members, especially Tokyu who footed the bill for building Mobile PASMO, is balancing open loop and closed loop without diluting their PASMO related point business.
Here’s a Q&A that hopefully sums up some basic points of where things go from here.
Q: Will Suica disappear? A: No. Suica is a loyalty platform and ecosystem, not a transit card.
Q: Will JR East replace FeliCa with EMV as the Suica foundation technology? A: This is a topic that Japanese IT media loves to dream about like salarymen fantasizing about manga sex they read on the commute home. FeliCa and EMV are proprietary technology packages that come with licensing price-tags. EMV has the added risk that JR East would have to ally with a EMV payment brand to create a EMV white-label closed loop Suica card, like OMNY card. There are other disadvantages: NFC A is the slowest NFC transaction flavor no matter how much backend optimization the Quadrac consortium come up with, and offline payment transaction support is limited because mutual authentication and card balance is done on central servers. Last but not least: JR East owns a nice big chunk of FeliCa Networks along with Sony and NTT Docomo.
Q: Will EMV open loop be ubiquitous across all transit operators in Japan? A: No, for the business reasons outlined above. JR East, JR West, and probably JR Central will not implement open loop as they want to sell closed loop Shinkansen tickets with loyalty programs. There isn’t any reason to partner with a EMV card brand for a white-label closed loop card when they already own FeliCa and QR closed loop products. There is also the scale problem. Open loop has been pushed by the media as a solution that solves every transit ticketing problem. It doesn’t. The reality is that open loop works best with simple fare structures. Closed loop works much better with complexity and interconnectivity.
In closing, Japan is the only country where open loop is being deployed by private rail transit companies that need to make money. Just as airlines ally and break with different card issuers for their loyalty programs, for business reasons and market politics, expect a similar market dance here. Payment technology, whether EMV, FeliCa or QR is just a means to an end of owning a vertically integrated loyalty program empire. The Japanese payments market will continue to be interesting ride that cannot be experienced anywhere else.
I really like YouTuber kenzy201’s latest post regarding the mysterious disappearance of the ¥170 paper ticket button at JR Kyushu Kokura station kiosks. Kenzy’s simple no frills talk style might look boring on the surface but his analysis is keen and enlightening, the kind of analysis we used to get with good journalists who don’t have the time for it anymore. I highly recommend listening to what he has to say here.
When JR Kyushu revealed the reasons behind their elimination of the ¥170 paper ticket option from JR Kokura station kiosks, it shined an uncomfortable light on their operations. Because of poor management decisions over the past decade that continued JR Kyushu’s reliance on paper tickets at the expense of leveraging SUGOCA, the result was 90% of ¥170 tickets sold at Kokura station were being used for fare evasion. Cheap passage to any paper ticket unmanned station on their system. This is because JR Kyushu has a continued reliance on legacy paper tickets instead of increasing SUGOCA transit card coverage and promoting its use, and because of cost cutting there are an increasing number of staff-less stations that are an invitation to paper ticket fare evasion.
As Kenzy points out, JR East Suica and Tokyu led PASMO revolutionized transit in the Tokyo region to the point where legacy paper tickets are hardly used, over 90% of fares are Suica • PASMO, with the old style transit operator interchange paper tickets already eliminated. There are station entrance/exit areas that only accept transit IC. JR Kyushu on the other hand, and despite having their own card and system, have not done much with SUGOCA. It’s a me too transit card without innovation or marketing muscle. The usage area is limited but more than that, JR Kyushu offers almost zero incentive to use it over paper tickets. No JRE POINT or WESTER-like reward point retail/service platform effort to encourage SUGOCA use and sell services, no mobile roadmap.
It’s a huge wasted opportunity that, unfortunately, has resulted in an embarrassing fare evasion problem that won’t be solved by eliminating a few paper ticket fare options. JR Kyushu management, and certainly SMBC group stera transit, may think that open loop will fix the problems, but it will not fix them. A bolt-on thin client like stera transit needs an existing hardware base to work. JR Kyushu has to fix and enhance the SUGOCA infrastructure they already have first.
The first indication that something was up the FeliCa chip supply chain came on May 31 as an small announcement from Iwatekenkotsu Co., Ltd that the scheduled last leg of their Suica 2 in 1 Iwate Green Pass bus support rollout would be delayed due to new IC reader device procurement delays.
This was quickly followed by a large joint press release from JR East and PASMO on June 2 announcing that unregistered Suica and PASMO cards, the plastic ones that people can buy in Tokyo area station kiosks, would not be available starting June 8, ‘until further notice’.
The official reason for the Suica plastic card sales suspension is ‘the global chip shortage,’ but that doesn’t sound right when there are gluts out there. These things can be complex so I asked an old colleague who specializes in chip production analysis about the situation. He had this to say:
Domestic manufacturers of non-volitive memory of the type used in FeliCa chips, reduced manufacturing capacity (the NAND market segment is currently in a recession due to overproduction and excess inventory). This reduction came when there was an increase of inbound visitors to Japan buying Suica and PASMO cards. There was also increased demand for new Suica purchases due to the expansion of the Suica area to the Tohoku region, because the population is not as large as Kanto and Kansai, demand is expected to settle down soon.
However as production capacity will not return to previous levels, there is a high possibility that supply and demand will continue to be tight to some extent.
Other Japanese sources say another factor is that all transit IC manufacturing has been sub-contracted out to Taiwan. In short, buckle up folks, it’s going to be a long bumpy ride as in addition to manufacturers cutting production due to the non-volitive memory glut, Japanese IC card production (FeliCa chip, antenna, card, etc.) has been farmed out to Taiwan. As the saying goes, they’re always a great risk putting all ones eggs in one basket, especially with chip production. But no matter how many times companies learn this hard lesson, companies soon forget.
The May 27 Tohoku Suica launch and Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate card launches are certainly a short term factor in the FeliCa chip shortage as JR East is still selling both registered and unregistered Suica cards in the Tohoku region and Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate cards. Outside of the Tohoku area JR East and PASMO will continue to sell plastic commuter passes and inbound speciality cards like Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT, however inventory is tight and JR East reduced the number of Welcome Suica sales outlets on August 2.
People assume that Transit IC cards from other regions like ICOCA or SUGOCA are readily available but this is not the case as operators are quietly limiting sales outlets. SUGOCA for example is not available at station kiosks but kept ‘under the counter’: buyers have to go the nearest JR Train Reservation office and ask for it. Expect this to start happening for all regular non-commuter pass Transit IC cards as well, partly to control inventory, partly to keep scalpers from cleaning out transit cards from kiosk station machines for resale.
Why not use Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO then? Unfortunately the mobile situation for inbound visitors isn’t great: visitors with only VISA cards or Android are basically out of luck.
So unless VISA lifts their foreign card Mobile Suica blockade, and it has been in place for a year now, even Apple Pay Suica • PASMO • ICOCA users are limited to using Mastercard and Amex cards…using cash recharge. More on that situation in later post.
The easiest solution for JR East and PASMO is to encourage domestic Suica and PASMO users to go with Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO instead of plastic cards. They are already doing that but expect more Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO promotion campaigns and reward point enticements. If anything, the plastic Suica • PASMO card shortage is the best Mobile Suica • PASMO promotion ever.
The Suica cross region problem, no thru transit going from the Suica area to the TOICA area for example, is a well known and criticized shortcoming of the Transit IC system. There has been some recent progress with cross region thru transit commuter passes but barriers remain for regular Suica use, a headache for both local residents and longer distance travelers. Despite all the fancy technology, the cheapest cross region thru transit fare choice is paper tickets.
A lesser known Suica barrier remains on the JR East network: Suica service region gaps. Currently there are 3 Suica regions: Tokyo, Sendai and Niigata. There are also some curious gaps between them illustrated below:
Fortunately this is all about to change for the better.
Filling the Suica gaps In 2019 JR East CEO Yuji Fukusawa said the company planned to have 100% Suica deployment by March 2022 but that didn’t happen. Why? Transit use killing COVID, the resulting red ink and redeployed resources are a big reason of course, but system development snags certainly contributed to the missed deadline. There was also a shift from a narrow focus of a lower cost Suica system to a wider focus of Suica 2 in 1, Cloud Suica, a lot of new service parts built around a cloud based centralized fare processing system. JR East’s Suica vision is evolving to a wider, transit service platform encompassing a range of technologies, with FeliCa as one component of a larger whole and flexible new system.
In October 2022 JR Central announced that TOICA is expanding to all JR Central lines and stations. The pressure is now on JR East to complete their delayed Suica rollout to all stations first. But there is something else: it’s an open secret that JR East hosts the TOICA system. JR Central would not make such a big TOICA commitment publicly unless JR East had a new system in place to facilitate the expansion. This new system, which I call Suica 2.0, started operation on May 27 in the Tohoku region.
The launch brings Suica to 45 stations in the Akita, Aomori and Morioka regions but only 9 of these are fully automatic transit gate installations similar to what you find in Tokyo area stations (the same new QR equipped gates shown in the press announcement are installed in Yoyogi station). The rest, 36 in all, are Suica 2.0 validators. Performance is an obvious concern. Suica users are accustomed to the fastest transit gate fare processing speeds on the planet. Will Suica 2.0 performance satisfy the Suica 1.0 experienced customer base who expectation Suica to ‘just work’ like it always has? To understand how Suica 1.0 fare gates achieve speedy performance apart from FeliCa technology, we need to examine why Suica regions exist and how they relate to transit gate performance.
Suica regions and gate processing speed Suica stands for “Super Urban Intelligent CArd” (but there is also ‘IC’ in the name for integrated chip) and was designed for heavily used urban transit as a smart card recreation of visually inspected paper commuter passes. JNR (pre JR East) researchers wanted to eliminate the time it took urban commuters to pull their magnetic commuter pass out of a wallet or case and feed it into the ticket gate slot. This clogged up major station gates at rush hour. The researchers also wanted a centrally processed card system but the networks and processing power of that time could not deal with the rush hour traffic volume. So the Suica architecture was built around locally transit gate processed stored fare (SF) balance from the card. Instead of centrally processed payments, fares are processed at the station level and synced with the central server, said to be about 6 times a day.
Transit gates have very little memory, most of it dedicated to their main task of local processing Suica fare at the exit point. Low overhead is a necessity. They can’t hold massive fare tables, hot card lists, dead card lists and so on. Only the bare minimum information required to do the local processing job is periodically synced with the central server. Limiting fare processing to specific heavy use regions is a necessary strategy in keeping the local fare processing overhead low and speedy. This is why a Tokyo Suica/PASMO region transit exit gate only processes the fare from a Suica or PASMO (or any Transit IC card) that started the journey in the same region. It’s also the reason why Transit IC cards are generally limited to 200 km point to point trips in their respective local regions, though there are some interesting loopholes.
It’s the same situation writ large with when traveling across transit IC card regions. Border stations like Atami (Suica and TOICA) have 2 sets of exit gates: one for travelers from the Suica region, one for travelers from the TOICA region. Continuous cross region transit across Suica and TOICA regions is limited to special cross region commuter passes and special cross region stations, again to keep the local processing overhead low.
It’s important to note however that IC coverage extensions to border stations with 2 sets of different gates and cross region commuter passes, are very recent 2021 developments. This is the JR Group companies laying the foundation to remove IC transit barriers in the near future. Because Suica 2.0 can process any and all Transit IC fare configurations, transit gate memory limits for local processing are no longer a concern. The barriers will come down when gate hardware • firmware is updated and Suica 2.0 cloud servers are in place.
Conceptually, Suica 2.0 is simply going back to what the creators of Suica originally envisioned: centralized fare processing. Specifically the Suica fare processing hockey puck is moving from the station level to centralized cloud servers. The Suica card itself is exactly the same as it is now, transit gates still handle all mutual authentication read~write functions.
The original aims of Cloud Suica with lower costs and flexibility are still there, the JR East Suica 2.0 press release builds on those with emphasis on a distributed server processing system for both Suica service expansion (more stations and no region barriers) and service functions (all kinds of cloud linked services). Let’s examine the new kinds of services JR East is promising to deliver with Suica 2.0.
① Barrier Free Suica transit with no more region gaps. A main goal of Suica 2.0 and bigger than it might seem. Eki-Net Shinkansen eTickets are already ‘barrier free’ with Suica, through clever use of Shinkansen transit gates, but Ticketless Limited Express trains are stuck with Suica barriers such as the Tokyo to Sendai Hitachi and Tokiwa Limited Express trains. Suica users have long complained that service gaps forces them to travel with paper tickets, or they are forced to pay in cash at the exit gate because they tapped in with Suica in Tokyo and forgot the Suica barriers. This problem, and many more barrier Suica gap issues will be eliminated.
② Automated Fare Discounts Part 1: Commute Plan Lite. This is similar to the recently launched Off-Peak Commuter Passes, think of it as short term ‘commute plan lite’ with tons of options. You buy a discounted fare option for certain routes, use times or frequency and it’s automatically linked with your Suica. And unlike the current Suica App method, the items are added in the cloud, not written and stored on the card itself.
③ Automated Fare Discounts Part 2: Fare Discount Gift Coupons. In a similar vein, fare discount reward coupons for store purchases with Suica can be automatically gifted with a tap at the payment terminal. Kinda like the old free parking ticket with store purchase gimmick only far more useful.
④ Linked MaaS services. JR East has been experimenting with MaaS programs like RingoPass but linking MaaS services with Suica 1.0 is a real pain. Suica 2.0 should make bundling much easier, it’s also an opportunity to clean up the current mess of apps.
Reality check and missing pieces Glossy JR East press releases are one thing but reading between the lines of the Suica Service Roadmap there are hints of missing pieces. Suica 2.0 is all about eliminating physical transit barriers but in the mobile app era there are lots of software barriers that need to be addressed too. Right now JR East online services are hosted in a bunch of apps that don’t fit together very well. It’s a maze of walled gardens: lots of service apps each with different accounts and login, making them work together is a real pain. The real problem is there is no one app to see and manage all the services and tickets attached or linked to your Suica.
A few things need to happen to make Suica 2.0 truly useful.
The current version of Suica App lives a double life: one half pulls things off the Mobile Suica cloud, one half does local housekeeping attaching Commute Plans, Green Car Seat Tickets and recharges to Suica card. Meanwhile Shinkansen eTickets, MaaS and other online services live in different apps with different accounts IDs. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all these services living in one cloud savvy Suica App that shows and manages everything attached to your Suica? Absolutely yes please.
Local Processing Fail-Safe?
We all know that cloud and mobile services fail. Stuff happens. Safe railroad operation requires fail-safe design. Japanese IT journalists like to pooh-pooh FeliCa and Suica reliability, heaping praise on how ‘fail-safe’ the Transit for London open loop Oyster system is. But London transit doesn’t have to deal with major earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, torrential rain and flooding, train communication cable arsonists, communication cable damaging trackside fire disasters, not to mention sarin gas and cable cutting terrorists. Japanese tend to take safety and security for granted but these infrastructure risks are very real. They have all happened. Suica 2.0 will be a highly centralized system, the higher the centralization, the higher the associated risks when it fails.
Does Suica 2.0 have a fail-safe backup? Here’s a possible, and from emerging details, likely scenario. We all know programmers don’t like using a new API for mission-critical programs unless they have to. They like to stick with what they already have for compatibility with a smooth gradual transition strategy to the new API. Same for Suica 2.0. Automatic Suica transit gates could be upgraded with both the Suica 1.0 ‘Suica Region local processing API’ and the new Suica 2.0 ‘Region-Free central processing API’. If something goes wrong with the Suica 2.0 central servers, the exit gates switch to reliable local processing Suica 1.0 API mode to keep passengers moving with station level fare processing or perhaps regional level fare processing depending on the JR East distributed server setup. Long story short, If this backup is not in place we can expect this to happen.
Suica 2.0 rollout and the QR Eki-Net Connection By all accounts the Suica 2.0 May 27 launch seems to be a happy marriage of ‘truth in the card’ Suica Stored Fare balance + central fare processing without any loss of fast transit gate speed. It works just like the Suica we’ve always had. Region barriers remain however, and they have increased: the 3 new Tohoku additions (Aomori•Morioka•Akita) each represent a new Suica region. Transit IC card barriers will eventually go away when Suica 2.0 is deployed across the entire JR East system. People can travel anywhere on the transit IC network not having to think about barrier nonsense, just like paper tickets. Sounds great but when does it happen? Let’s take a look at the JR East rollout schedule.
As of May 27, 2023 we have six Suica regions, however Suica extensions announced for 2024 and 2025 give us a clue how the barriers will drop. The 2024 Yamagata Suica extension will be added to the Sendai region, the 2025 Nagano Suica extension will be added to the Tokyo region. Sequentially we can expect Sendai to be folded into the Tokyo region first, then Niigata and finally Tohoku as missing station gaps between regions are filled.
JR East says the Suica region barriers will drop by 2026, at the latest, when Suica 2.0 is rolled out across the entire rail network.
An interesting point here is that QR Eki-Net service starts in the very same Suica 2.0 Tohoku launch region which means that QR Eki-Net uses the same Suica 2.0 fare validation system. Suica 2.0 does QR too. When Suica 2.0 goes wide, so does QR. It’s one package with 2 parts as shown in the Suica Service Roadmap: the Suica 2.0 Platform and a ‘new’ (and unnamed) Ticketing system, which might be the venerable (and earthquake hardened) JR Group MARS system updated for the mobile transit era.
And when does seamless cross region IC transit for Suica, TOICA, et al. happen? Hopefully the JR Group is coordinating so that the Suica 2.0 rollout is mirrored by the other JR Group companies. The JR Central TOICA announcement certainly suggests so. Slight differences are already apparent: JR East prefers cloud connected Suica 2.0 validators at unmanned stations. JR Central and JR West prefer the bus style approach of having on board enter and exit validators for rural lines with unmanned stations. Either way is fine, just get it done as quickly as possible. Let the Transit IC barriers drop away into the past where they belong. Because with Suica 2.0 in place and barriers gone, the way is also cleared for fare capping, automated discounts, specialty ticketing and lots of new cloud based transit services.
This post was originally published 2023-02-27 and was reposted with the latest information from JR East on 2023-06-21.