BYLINE: Shinobu Noguchi

Deputy General Manager, Suica Project,East Japan Railway Co

INTRO: Adoption of Suica-compatible cards by 53 operators in the Tokyo area in 2006 will form the world’s largest public transport smart card network, doubling the number of Suica users to around 15 million

BY the end of November 2003 over 7·5 million people were using Suica, the contactless smart card introduced by East Japan Railway in November 2001. In their two-year history the cards have proved to be really popular among our customers, and the number of users continues to increase. We expect the number of Suica users to rise dramatically in the future as other companies adopt compatible ticketing.

JR East operates long-distance and commuter services over a 7527 km network in eastern Honshu that includes the densely-populated Tokyo metropolitan area. No fewer than 5850 million journeys representing 125·2 billion passenger-km were made on JR East trains in 2002-03. JR East is Japan’s largest railway company and the high passenger figures ensure that it ranks among the world’s largest rail operators.

JR East launched the Suica ticketing system on November 18 2001. The scale of the project is unprecedented, even by world standards. Now entering its third year, Suica is functioning smoothly with no significant problems, despite expansion of the area covered and the addition of more functions.

Looking at the number of Suica transactions, we find that the cards are used up to 3500000 times per day. This represents the number of times the cards are used to enter and exit ticket gates, plus the number of times extra value was added to the cards. The figure excludes use within zones covered by Suica commuter passes. About 40% of traffic through automatic ticket gates uses Suica cards.

The introduction of contactless smart cards is steadily leading to changes at stations with more cashless and ticketless transactions. In turn, this means lower costs thanks to a reduction in the cost of maintaining ticket machines, so achieving one of the main objectives of the project.

Expanding the Suica area

JR East has made the ticket gates at seven stations in the Tokyo area used by Shinkansen services Suica-compatible, and from October 12 2003 customers riding Shinkansen trains were able to use Suica commuter passes. As of November 30, around 6000 passengers had chosen to use Suica commuter passes for Shinkansen travel.

We have also made the ticket gates at 65 stations in the Greater Sendai area in Miyagi Prefecture Suica-compatible, and since October 26 2003 smart card services in Sendai are identical to those available in the Tokyo area. About 47000 people had purchased Suica cards for use in Greater Sendai by the end of November.

This expansion of the Suica service area has made it possible to use the cards at 530 JR East stations in Tokyo and Greater Sendai. The inclusion of the nine Tokyo Monorail stations and seven Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit stations from 2002 brings the total number of stations at which Suica can be used to 546.

Adding functions

From July 1 2003 we commenced issuing the VIEW Suica card, which brings together the Suica card and the VIEW credit card, another JR East service. This is the world’s first multi-purpose and multi-function rail transport smart card, functioning as a ticket for transport and available for use as a credit card at normal commercial outlets. In the future, we expect to add an auto-charge service for use at automatic ticket vending machines to the range of functions of the VIEW Suica. By November 30 2003 around 90000 of these cards had been issued.

JR East is currently making preparations to add electronic purse functions to the Suica card. This will expand the range of possibilities for using the standard card well beyond its use as a rail ticket. For example, it will be possible to use it in shops as a debit card. The electronic purse service is scheduled to start in spring 2004.

We have received a variety of opinions and requests from Suica users. Some of the most common views expressed concern expansion of the area of use - customers would like to be able to use Suica on more lines and at more stations, and they would also like to see availability extended to other operators and even to bus services. We take the wishes of our Suica users very seriously, and we regard increasing the convenience and value of the Suica card as an obligation to society. Our next objective is to be able to offer common use of contactless smart cards with other transport companies.

Towards common use

The significance of moving towards common use of a smart card issued by JR East to routes operated by other companies, and vice versa, lies in the greater convenience it offers to our customers and the increased competitiveness it brings to the rail industry. Additional benefits, including the streamlining of operations at stations and further cost reductions, are also anticipated.

The success of the Suica card has dramatically increased the interest of other Japanese rail companies in the use of contactless smart cards, and many other operators are examining the introduction of similar systems, especially in the Tokyo area and in the Kansai region covering Osaka and Kyoto. For some time, JR East has been making other rail companies aware of the benefits and the potential for development inherent in smart card-based ticketing.

The Kansai region is leading the way in the push towards introducing more smart card ticketing. JR West, which operates in western Honshu, has introduced smart card-compatible ticket gates, and commenced offering its own ICOCA service in November 2003. ICOCA makes use of the same ticketing technology as Suica, and there is an extremely high level of compatibility.

The Surutto Kansai Association, whose members are public transport companies in the Kansai area, has also announced that it will introduce smart card-based ticketing. JR East has agreed to common use of tickets with the members of the Association and with JR West, and preparations are now being made for early implementation. Common use of the Suica system with JR West is expected to be launched this summer.

Expansion in Tokyo

The Tokyo area boasts an extremely high-density and high-frequency rail network operated by a large number of individual companies; bus routes act as transport feeders to and from the stations that form the multiple nodes of the network. The scale of this public transport system is staggering by any standards.

Most rail operators in Tokyo, apart from JR East, already have a compatible ticketing system known as Passnet. However, Passnet uses magnetic stripe cards, which represents an obstacle to conversion to contactless cards.

JR East has been in discussion with the main companies involved in Passnet since autumn 2002 about introducing Suica-compatible contactless smart cards. All companies using Passnet and the bus companies using the Bus Kyotsu Card have participated in these discussions since early 2003. In July, the companies reached a consensus and finalised an agenda for the introduction of a contactless smart card that can be used on services provided by each operator.

An agreement was signed on July 28 2003 that provides for all the companies to phase in the use of contactless Suica-compatible smart cards starting in the 2006 financial year. This is a truly significant development. When this common use system is established, it will form the world’s largest public transport smart card network, and this will lead to major changes in stations and ticketing, at the same time offering a tremendous increase in passenger convenience.

There are 23 companies that use Passnet and 27 bus operators that use the Bus Kyotsu Card system. With the three companies already using Suica in the Tokyo area, this will mean that 53 companies will share the same compatible smart card. As many as 1500 stations and 13000 buses will be linked in a network used by around 15 million card holders, about twice the number presently using Suica cards.

The challenge of complexity

Tokyo’s rail network operates as a seamless system, in which a large number of routes managed by different enterprises are linked by through running. This means that passengers are often able to travel to their destinations without the need to change trains.

Each of the different service providers has its own scale of fares, and because fares are based on the distance travelled in the particular company’s segment of the network, the fare structure is highly complex compared with a zone-based system. For example, the number of different fares in use at JR Tokyo metropolitan area stations alone totals 100000.

The specific details of the services to be provided and the precise form of the common use ticketing system are presently under review. Clearly there are a number of hurdles still to be cleared before the system can be launched.

The problems centre on the design and construction of such a large and complicated network of ticketing equipment. In particular, the calculation of fares and fare adjustment scales between multiple service providers to ensure that passengers still enjoy seamless use of the rail network is a major challenge.

Towards the future

The smart card is an important tool in increasing the convenience of rail travel for passengers. In this context it should be borne in mind that Japan has a rapidly ageing society, and it is important to give trains and buses a competitive edge over private cars. In addition, changing to smart cards makes it possible to reduce operating costs.

The introduction of compatible smart cards will enable passengers to use the majority of trains and buses in Tokyo with a single card. Numerous problems remain to be overcome before full agreement is reached on every detail, but the companies involved are serious about co-operating closely to establish a system that will increase the level of comfort and convenience they are able to offer their passengers.

CAPTION: From 2006 the Suica card used by JR East, the Passnet card used by private railways and the Bus Kyotsu card will be interchangeable throughout the Kanto region

CAPTION: The Suica commuter pass was launched in November 2001

CAPTION: The Suica ’IO’ card is rechargeable. Suica cards are already in use on JR East routes in Tokyo, the Tokyo Monorail and the Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit line

CAPTION: Suica cards account for 40% of movements through ticket gates in the Tokyo area

’We regard increasing the convenience and value of the Suica card as an obligation to society.’

La carte Suica va être utilisée dans tout Tokyo

Lancée en Novembre 2001 sur les lignes de la banlieue de Tokyo, l’usage de la carte de transport Suica de la compagnie JR East a été étendu en 2003 afin d’inclure sept gares Shinkansen dans Tokyo ainsi que 65 gares du Grand Sendaã. La carte Suica VIEW intègrant les fonctions d’une carte de crédit a été lancée en Juillet 2003 et les fonctions de porte-monnaie électronique seront ajoutées au printemps 2004. Plus de 7·5 millions de personnes emploient maintenant les cartes Suica et JR West ainsi que des exploitants de la région de Kansaã se sont mis d’accord pour adopter des cartes compatibles. Un accord signé en 2003 prévoit que 23 exploitants ferroviaires et 27 exploitants routiers programmeront l’usage commun de cartes sans contact dans l’intégralité de la zone métropolitaine de Tokyo à partir du début de l’année comptable 2006

Suica Card in ganz Tokio

Das auf Tokioter Vorortsstrecken im November 2001 eingeführte Chipkarten- Fahrausweissystem der JR East wurde 2003 auf 7 Shinkansen-Stationen in Tokio und 65 weitere Stationen in der Sendai-Region ausgeweitet. Die VIEW Suica-Karte mit Kreditkartenfunktion wurde im Juli 2003 eingeführt und elektronische Geldbeutel- Funktionen folgen im Frühling 2004. Über 7·5 Millionen Personen benutzen nun Suica-Karten, und JR West sowie weitere Betreibergesellschaften in der Kansai- Region haben sich verpflichtet, kompatible Karten einzuführen. Eine 2003 von weiteren 23 Bahn- und 27 Busbetreibern unterzeichnete Vereinbarung führt zur Einführung einer im Grossraum Tokio universell einsetzbaren Chipkarte mit Beginn des Rechnungsjahres 2006

La tarjeta Suica se usar