Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate Cards

JR East Suica 2 in 1 region affiliate card announcements are coming regularly and we should hear more as fiscal year 2021 gets underway (April 2021~March 2022). Instead of separate posts I’m listing all cards here and will update the table as new cards are announced.

2 in 1 Region Card List
As of March 23, 2021, 8 new cards serving 16 regional transit companies have been announced.

RegionTypeAnnouncedNameLaunchPartners
UtsunomiyaBus & Light Rail2019-7-9totraMarch 21 2021 (Bus)
March 2022 (LRT)
Kanto Transportation
JR Bus Kanto
Utsunomiya Light Rail
Iwate PrefectureBus2020-1-16Iwate Green PassMarch 27 2021Iwate Kotsu Co. Ltd.
Iwate PrefectureBus2020-10-20IGUCAMarch 2022Northern Iwate Transportation
Hachinohe CityBus2020-10-21HACHIKAMarch 2022Northern Iwate Transportation
Hachinohe City Bus
Aomori CityBus2020-11-19AOPASSMarch 2022Aomori City Bus
Akita CityBus2020-11-30AkiCaMarch 2022Akita Chuo Kotsu Co. Ltd.
Yamagata CityBus2021-3-9chericaMarch 2022Yamako-Bus Co. Ltd
Shonai Kotsu Co. Ltd
GunmaBus2021-3-18nolbéMarch 2022Joshin-Dentetsu
Gunma Chuo Bus
Nippon Chuo Bus
Gunma Bus
Yajima Taxi
Nagai Bus
AomoriBus2021-11-17TBAMarch 2022Towada Kankō Dentetsu
AkitaBus2021-11-24Shuhoku Orange PassMarch 2022Shuhoku Bus

From the announcements so far the important details are:

  • Local branded MaaS: Suica 2 in 1 region cards have their own branding, region commuter passes and reward transit points. It’s highly likely that local reward points can be exchanged with JRE POINT in the future but so far there are no Suica 2 in 1 region app to facilitate this. There will be special services and discounts for local area residents linked to Ny Number Card in the future as part of the JR East local region MaaS program.
  • Suica benefits: Though they have different branding, local region 2 in 1 cards are Suica cards with all the Suica infrastructure benefits including Mobile Suica, Shinkansen eTickets, nationwide Transit IC compatibility, eMoney, etc. This means they automatically plug into the wider transit and payments network.
  • Contactless: eliminating paper tickets and hard cash in areas without Transit IC cards in the COVID era is a good thing, VISA Touch is marketing the hell out of it too. More on the subject here.
  • Local and national government transit support subsidies for rural areas will be used to help launch cards. Yamagata prefecture for example will provide the equivalent of 5.2 million USD for a region card that will cover all public transit for the prefecture.

Suica 2 in 1 is central technology of JR East MaaS strategy, it offers the benefits of Suica infrastructure to link local transit agencies within the JR East area who don’t have the resources to launch or maintain their own transit IC card system. Plugging orphaned regions into the wider transit network and leveraging the established infrastructure is the sensible thing to do. I only wish JR East had done it years ago. We will see more announcements in the coming months and Japanese press coverage as the bulk of the new card services launch in March 2022.

All 2 in 1 Region Card announcements so far have been for new cards. The next and bigger challenge for JR East will be incorporating existing and important region transit cards inside the JR East transit region such Niigata Kotsu Ryuto and Sendai City Transportation Bureau icsca that help reduce costs for everybody.

Related Posts
Road to Super Suica: cloud integration and the transit card push to mobile
Road to Super Suica: 2 in 1 shared infrastructure and mobile transit card expansion update
Smells like Super Suica: next generation FeliCa

Suica 2 in 1 cards announced for Aomori and Akita City buses (Updated)

Super Suica diagram

Another day, another JR East Super Suica 2 in 1 card announcement, this one for Aomori City buses due to launch in spring 2022, just about the same time as Mobile ICOCA. This is the 3rd and 4th Super Suica 2 in 1 card announcement so far:

The latest announcements are similar to earlier press releases but there are some interesting new details that shed more light on what the Super Suica service will look like.

  • Local Branding: Super Suica 2 in 1 local area cards will have their own branding and reward points. I suspect local reward points can be exchanged for or plug into the JRE POINT system as well. There will also likely be special services and discounts for local area residents linked to Ny Number Card.
  • Suica benefits: Though they have different branding local 2 in 1 cards are Suica cards with all the Suica infrastructure benefits including Mobile Suica, Shinkansen eTickets, Transit IC compatibility, eMoney, etc.
  • Contactless: eliminating paper tickets and hard cash in areas without Transit IC cards in the COVID era is a good thing though credit card companies are marketing the hell out of it too. More on this in a later post.

Super Suica offers the benefits of Suica infrastructure to local transit agencies within the JR East area who don’t have the resources to launch or maintain their own Transit IC card system. Plugging those orphaned areas into the wider transit network with the same infrastructure is the sensible thing to do, I wish JR East had done this years ago. We should see more announcements in the coming months and Japanese press coverage as the first services prepare to launch in March 2021.

UPDATE
Super Suica 2 in 1 card announced for Akita City buses on November 30.

Road to Super Suica: mobile expansion

The JR West Osaka Expo 2025 transit vision incorporates Mobile ICOCA and MaaS services

The October 21 announcement from JR East-Hachinohe City-Northern Iwate Transportation is the 3rd Super Suica local transit card and follows earlier Super Suica local transit card announcements for Utsunomiya Light Rail and Iwate Transit Co. Ltd. These fit neatly into the narrow definition of Super Suica as a local area ‘2 in 1’ transit card within the JR East region that hosts different transit company commute plans and reward points on a single card. New FeliCa chips announced in September have new features like ‘Extended Overlap Service’ to support the ‘2 in 1’ model.

The real test of Super Suica is the wider definition beyond the 2 in 1 Suica Region Affiliate Transit Card program and how it plays out both JR Group companies and non-JR transit companies outside of the JR East (JRE) region. The more JR East shares Mobile Suica cloud assets, the more all transit companies can eliminate duplication and save costs. In the COVID era of constrained public travel, reducing costs while maintaining good service is more important than ever.

On the mobile front it’s clear that Mobile PASMO was an unannounced joint effort between JR East and PASMO Association. Mobile PASMO service and software is Mobile Suica dressed up in PASMO colors, the penguin character swapped out for a robot. The JR West announcement of Mobile ICOCA one week after the Apple Pay PASMO launch is no coincidence. The Super Suica mobile template is in place and road tested, PASMO and ICOCOA are the first 2 customers.

Who’s next? Junya Suzuki pointed out that Suica and PASMO together account for 80% of Japanese transit card issue, ICOCA added in makes that 90%. The next largest market and logical choice is manaca, the Nagoya area equivalent of PASMO. Forget about the Kansai area PiTaPa, the credit card as transit card concept was a bust and will likely never go mobile unless it’s repositioned as just a credit card. JR Central’s TOICA has deep pockets, and it’s said that TOICA runs on Suica servers, but JR Central has a sibling rivalry thing with JRE that might get in the way.

From a market share perspective manaca be the next logical mobile service candidate with the Kyushu area transit cards (SUGOCA and nimoca) following soon after. The next development to keep an eye on is the ‘2 in 1’ Super Suica local transit card model and if other major JR Group members offer a rebranded version of it in their respective transit regions.

From a western perspective people wonder ‘why not just have one national transit card and be done with all this nonsense’. A national transit card has been discussed by various Japanese governments from time to time, and gone nowhere. The shared infrastructure Super Suica model that aims to lift all boats certainly plays more to the traditional Japanese business mindset. In these challenging times that can be a good thing.

Mobile ICOCA announced for early 2023 launch

Mobile ICOCA Announcement

That didn’t take long. When Mobile PASMO was announced in January this year with Apple Pay PASMO launching October 6, it was clear that a basic shared ‘Super Suica’ mobile infrastructure was coming together for a larger transit card rollout for ICOCA and other cards.

JR West announced Mobile ICOCA today for a March~April 2023 launch. Details follow the service outline of Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO and I think we can expect the same kind of rollout: Android Osaifu Keitai first, closely followed by Apple Pay ICOCA and Google Pay. Kansai commuters will rejoice when they finally have the choice to add their ICOCA to a digital wallet. ICOCA is the Kansai region ‘Suica’.

It will be interesting to see if other transit cards like manaca will make an announcement soon. Suica and PASMO account for 80% of Transit IC card issue who have gone mobile, adding ICOCA would nudge that number to 90%. The next biggest card yet to go mobile is the Nagoya area manaca.

Dear Apple and JR East, we need Apple Pay Family Suica

watchOS 7 Family Setup is a bigger deal than many people might think at first glance. Apple Cash Family is just one part of the service with transfers from a parent’s iPhone to a child’s Apple Watch. It’s the most compelling Apple Cash use case I can think of, and Apple Watch for children without iPhone is appealing to parents in a way that iPhone by itself is not.

I’ve always said that if Apple Watch ever gained direct Suica loading with parental controls, Apple could make a killing selling it into the Japanese education market. watchOS 7 Family Setup is almost there for the JP market but needs one more thing: Family Suica.

Next generation ‘Super’ Suica is coming early 2021 and next generation FeliCa is shipping in November. We already have digital car keys in Wallet that can be shared and Mobile Suica will be doing a lot more on the cloud with Super Suica. Apple and JR East have all the necessary new features they need to create an insanely great Apple Pay Family Suica.

The service outline is simple and combines what car keys do in Wallet with digital key sharing and Apple Cash Family does with transfers and limits. A master Apple Pay Suica ID is setup on an iPhone and manages family member Apple Pay Suica on other devices. The master ‘organizer’ would transfer stored fare (SF) via Messages and set spending limits just like Apple Cash Family does. Simple intuitive convenience.

Apple Pay Family Suica also needs transferable commuter passes. That way a parent can set one up for a child, transfer it to Apple Watch and renew it remotely. Transferable commuter passes would also be handy in our COVID teleworking era as working parents might not need a pass every working day. A “hey honey can I borrow your pass today,” thing that plastic transit card users do all the time.

So far nobody has managed to to produce a smartwatch that matches the super convenience of Apple Watch and Apple Pay Suica. If JR East and Apple produce Family Suica, they would effectively future-proof both next generation Suica and Apple Watch in the Japan market.