Suica, mPass: Mobile Integrated Ticketing is Next (Videos)


As we head down the exciting track of integrated ticketing, let’s hope a mobile option could be offered soon in its implementation.

The world is heading down the m-payment route and Japan is leading the way.

If you have an iPhone and have used the mPass app to travel on Air NZ flights, you’ll already have had a taste of the exciting time saving and convenience of such mobile-based services. I used it on my recent flight to Wellington and it even saved me the already time –saving convenience of those recent self-service check-in kiosks at the domestic terminal.

With mPass on your iPhone, you just head, after security, to the specific flight terminal and when you’re flight boards, you wave the m-pass barcode at the reader, it prints out your EFTPOS-looking receipt with the seat number and you board the plane.

So it is on trains in Japan.  Produced by transport company JR East (East Japan Railway Company), the Suica card,  (stands for “Super Urban Intelligent Card”), was introduced for payment for train and bus rides.

It’s used on most trains, subways and buses in the Greater Tokyo, Sendai and Niigata regions. The card is now available to buy things at stores and vending machines,  in airport stores and taxis and of late as payment on some Japanese ecommerce sites.

suicapenLike the Oyster card, the Suica card uses RFID technology.bn_cocacola

Introduced about three years, the mobile version can be used instead of the card.  Once installed, you can get on JR trains by just waving your phone over the entrance gates.

See how easy it is:

You can also recharge your credit from your phone, and upgrade to a more expensive ride.

The mobile version is now becoming available on more of Japan’s train routes and also at retail outlets and vending machines as this happy Swede found out:

You have to have particular credit cards on which to charge all the money you load onto your phone and topping it up is done exclusively on your phone itself.

Cards and mobile Suica certainly speeds things up at the train station:

By April this year, 28m Suica cards were in use and total transactions using them were said to be US$10b a year. It’s not a monopoly – another popular Japanese card is called the Pasmo.pastrain

Instructions on how to use mobile Suica and Pasmo from the CoolStuff Japan site:

When using the public transportation system, first of all make sure that your chosen line or bus route actually accepts Suica or PASMO. Especially in the suburbs of Tokyo, not all trains or buses have the readers installed.
When getting on a train, just hold your phone over the green or blue Suica/PASMO sensor until the light goes out and the gate beeps, letting you through. The screen will show you how much credit is left. If the sensor turns red and the gate does not open, check your credit and try again.

Don’t “swipe” your phone over the sensor, just make sure the FeliCa logo on your phone is directly over the gate’s sensor and touch them together, if necessary. JR East recommends you give the sensor at least 1 second to read your phone’s chip.

You’ll also need to touch your phone again on your way out. Also, don’t forget that you can use the priority Suica-only ticket barriers. On buses, touch your phone to the sensor next to the driver. It should be blue, but the sensor’s light turns off if it is not used in a few minutes. It should light up as you bring your phone close, beeping and confirming you’ve paid your fare. There is no need to touch it again upon leaving the bus.

On a vending machine, first select your drink by pushing its button. Then hold your phone over the machine’s Suica or PASMO sensor. It will beep and your drink will be dispensed. You can also just bring your phone to the sensor to see how much credit you have on the machine’s display.

In a shop that accepts Suica or PASMO, just tell the cashier, “Suica de, onegaishimasu” when it’s time to pay. Then hold your phone to the flashing sensor to complete the transaction.

More info: The Suica R&D story:




  1. rtc says:

    Lufthansa sends you your eticket as a pdf with a barcode on it, you just show your phone when you board and they scan the ticket, saves you having to even print a ticket.

  2. James says:

    I noticed 1-2 of the people in the 3rd video used paper mag-stripe tickets (those are inserted at the leading corner of the gate, and picked up again for boarding or not returned for those leaving the paid area. There are ticket vending machines at all stations and a lot of people travel with cash tickets. The smart-card tickets are definitely less hassle but there’s no saving by using them over the cash tickets.

  3. Su Yin Khoo says:

    The Suica was such a joy to use and was super easy to reload at the automated kiosks

  4. Steve says:

    I sometimes think it is a shame that we couldn’t convince JR East, Tokai or West to buy all the NZ rail operations and run them properly. SUICA is great, love the vending machines with it enabled, ditto the phones (tho never got to use that as was a tourist only last time in Japan)


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