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.
One glaring weakness of Japanese Transit IC cards is the fare region wall. There’s a Japanese word for it, ‘matagaru’ which means through passage without dismounting…as in dismount in the middle of a journey and pay full fare in cash at the gate because the transit IC fare region is different from the entry station. Suica for example only works for transit in the Suica/PASMO region, users cannot travel across 2 different regions. This means Suica users traveling into the JR Central TOICA area or vice versa have 2 choices: (1) paper tickets for the whole trip, (2) buy a paper exit ticket with Suica at the exit gate fare adjustment kiosk. This is the way it has worked for all cross region transit.
This is very inconvenient for Shinkansen commuters who live in the Numazu~Mishima JR Central region and commute into the Suica/PASMO Tokyo region. Suica and TOICA commuter passes are worthless, old fashioned mag strip commuter passes are the only option. A similar situation exists for cross region commuters in the TOICA~ICOCA regions. Fortunately, the JR Group companies (JR East, JR Central, JR West) are working to ease this problem and have new ‘matagaru’ cross region commuter pass service starting March 13. I posted about this development earlier, but it’s worth explaining again in more detail and covering the limitations.
Cross Region Transit Basically the JR Group companies are moving transit region commute pass goalposts slightly inside their respective fare regions. The TOICA region is expanding slightly to include boarder stations: Atami, Kozu (JR East/JR Central) and Maibara (JR Central/JR West). ICOCA is expanding to include Kameyama (JR Central/JR West). For Suica users the new rules mean Suica cross region commuter passes work for transit into the TOICA fare region, and vice versa for TOICA commuter cross region passes in the Suica fare region.
In theory this should not be very difficult to do as commuter passes are commute plans attached to a transit card with an ID number but the press release suggests some transit card architecture differences: (1) the 200 km transit limit for ICOCA and TOICA has been extended to 300 km covering 2 transit IC fare regions, (2) older passes must be reissued on a new card in order to be upgraded. The new issue requirement, along with JR East making the soon to be released ‘Super’ Suica 2 in 1 card available for cross region commuter passes does strongly suggest the new FeliCa SD2 card architecture is used for cross region transit.
The core cross transit regions are Numazu (Shizuoka)~Odawa (Kanagawa) for Suica and TOICA, and Hikone (Shiga)~Ogaki (Gifu) for ICOCA and TOICA. The cross region commuter pass details state that passes cover up to 300 km over 2 regions. Shinkansen commuters gain the most benefit as the new rules are aimed to open up transfer stations to Transit IC cards for Shinkansen commutes. Suica FREX commuter passes cover local Numazu to Mishima transit→Shinkansen to Shinagawa/Tokyo transit→local transit in the Suica/PASMO area. Toica and ICOCA commuters have similar benefits. Regular commuter pass users also gain the ability to ride the Tokkaido Shinkansen area covering the entire Tokyo~Shin Iwakuni for ticketless non-reserve seating, similar to JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen.
There are still big limitations: (1) plastic cards only: no Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica support because ICOCA and Toica are not on mobile yet, (2) regular non-commute pass transit not included: regular transit cards still operate under the current region and 200 km limitation (TOICA and ICOCA fare regions only as the Suica fare region does not have any distance limit).
There’s a new gate installed at Atami station with a blue color. This is a Toica exit gate that accommodates regular Toica (non-commuter pass) transit. Entrance gates have not changed as they already accommodate any Transit IC card including Apple Pay Suica•PASMO. Only the exit gate matters for the fare region calculation (Suica fare or TOICA fare). There is a similar setup at Maibara station for TOICA and ICOCA users. This simple addition of extending the TOICA region and adding TOICA exit gates really shows how much JR Central has left TOICA on the back burner. They could have done this years ago.
These changes are baby steps. I hope fare region limitations gradually disappear after the next generation Suica card architecture is in place and shared by all Mutual Use Transit IC Association members with the major players on mobile. These are challenging times for public transit all around the world, Japanese transit companies need to hurry up and seriously cooperate.
JR East Suica station entrance tickets In a separate service announcement also starting March 13, JR East stations will accept Suica/Transit IC cards, Apple Pay Suica included, for non-transit station entrance ticketing. These cost ¥140 (Kanto district station malls)~¥150 (everywhere else), are good for 2 hours, and cover all Suica gated stations (flap gate stations). Non-JR East stations, JR East stations off the Suica grid and Shinkansen gated areas inside JR East stations are not supported.
The origin of station entrance tickets was for tearful platform farewells seen in old classic movies, but in this era it’s all about enticing people to shop and use facilities in station malls. Ticketless is nice but I wish JR East had also figured out a way to waive the fee with Suica purchases over a certain amount, kinda like free parking vouchers. That would be the ultimate station mall shopping motivation.
UPDATE New gate entrance/exit layouts are in place at the new Transit IC card region exchange points for Suica, TOICA, ICOCA. A twitter posted the station notice for Maibara, the new exchange point for TOICA~ICOCA commuter passes. There is a ‘TOICA’ gate. A similar gate is in place at Atami station for Suica~TOICA transit. It doesn’t eliminate the Transit IC region boundary limitation but the new arrangement improves the transfer point experience for Shinkansen users, especially smart EX/EX-Press Reserve users.
That didn’t take long. The announcement Walmart was selling majority control of SEIYU over to KKR and Rakuten was made November 16. And what was the first new management move? Adding Suica and Transit IC payment support which means Apple Pay Suica • PASMO and Google Pay Suica can finally, finally be used for paying at checkout. QR Code PayPay has been in place for awhile already. SEIYU also rolled out a new system recently for self checkout and EMV IC chip payments for SEIYU brand Saison cards (other cards have to be signed…yuck). NFC anything has been entirely missing from the SEIYU payments lineup despite the COVID crisis and a huge push for all things cashless, but Walmart has a long antagonistic history with NFC digital wallet payments.
I only noticed the change this evening when I heard the store announcement over the PA. Sure enough Suica signs were plastered at every checkout. It’s weird but somehow fitting that SEIYU is soft launching long overdue NFC contactless payments with Suica. More will come. I’m sure Walmart leaving town had nothing to do with it. Yeah, nothing at all. SEIYU stores were much better under the pre-Walmart Seibu management. Hopefully this marks a return to better service and clean modern stores.
A reader asked a very good question: what’s the point of an Apple Pay My Suica? Can’t you already migrate a normal ‘unregistered’ Suica to another device if you loose your device?
There are 3 basic Suica plastic card categories: unregistered, registered (My Suica) and commuter. PASMO and all other major Transit IC card are the same. An unregistered Suica card just spits out of the station kiosk after putting money in and you are on your way, but it cannot be replaced or re-issued if lost. Buy a new one, end of story.
With a registered My Suica card, the customer registers a name and other information on the kiosk touchscreen and if the card is lost it can be re-issued for a fee with the original stored balance intact. It’s Suica insurance. Same deal for Commuter Suica which is registered Suica with a commute plan attached.
Mobile Suica uses the same 3 category card model but Apple Pay Suica changed the game considerably. When a user transfers any flavor of plastic Suica to Apple Pay, the card is permanently linked to the user Apple ID. When a user creates a Suica card in Wallet it creates a My Suica card also attached to Apple ID. Apple Pay Suica cards also seem to be ‘ghost’ registered to Mobile Suica even when the user does not have a Mobile Suica account. Only the Apple Pay and Mobile Suica system elves really know what is going on.
The upside for Apple Pay users is that Apple Pay and Mobile Suica preserve Suica card information so the user can safely remove Suica from Wallet, re-add it, or transfer it to another device at any time. It’s free insurance without the hassle of registering a Mobile Suica account. All Suica card types are treated the same. The downside is that if you want to migrate to Android you have to delete your Mobile Suica account and refund the card, then create a new card and Mobile Suica account for Google Pay Suica. It’s the same deal going migrating the other way.
To answer the reader question regarding the point of Apple Pay My Suica, the point is this: commute plans, auto-charge, Green Car seat purchase. The point of Apple Pay Registered PASMO is similar: commute plans and auto-charge. All this is done via Suica App or PASMO App. If you don’t want those extra services, a plain unregistered Suica or PASMO is all you need.
Transit gate tappers are endlessly fascinating to watch: feather touchers, slappers, pocket fumblers, precision marchers, schlep slumpers. The daily routine is never routine.
Apple Watch transit-gating has a different set of challenges compared to plastic transit cards and smartphones, and a different set of circumstances: left wrist vs right wrist, transit gate reader position and NFC antenna read sensitivity with the much smaller Apple Watch NFC device.
There is also the crucial wrist twist. Apple recommends a quick wrist twist so Apple Watch faces down to the reader for better NFC reception, best shown in the Apple Pay Octopus Ride and Buy video:
Twitter user S posted a fascinating take on the subject. S wears his Apple Watch Suica on the right and keeps it facing up on the reader, not down. Apple Watch Journal has a great video showing this in action. The Apple Watch face up trick works on JR East gates but not so well on PASMO gates. Why? JR East gate readers are manufactured by JREM. PASMO gates are a mix of Omron, Toshiba and Nippon Signal.
I notice PASMO gate difference with Apple Watch Suica, some gates work great face up, others not. When you use the same stations everyday you develop a natural sense of the best gates. The differences are tiny but noticeable if you pay attention. Even so I am not a face up Apple Watch Suica user, I go sideways and it works everywhere.