goo Research recently published a massive survey of 35,925 internet users by means of a public internet-based questionnaire on the use of railway IC cards. They collected replies during a week at the end of June and the start of July. 53.3% of the respondents were female, 2.3% in their teens, 22.3% in their twenties, 39.6% in their thirties, 24.0% in their forties, 8.7% in their fifties, 2.3% in their sixties, 0.6% in their seventies, and the remaining 0.2% chose not to reveal their age. Also, 30.6% of the sample lived in the Tokyo area, 7.4% in the Nagoya area, and 16.6% in Kansai – Tokyo and Kansai have railway smart card services (namely JR’s SUICA in Tokyo and JR’s ICOCA and the private railways’ PiTaPa in Kansai) and major train concentrations, but I don’t believe Nagoya has, although it is the third major centre of population in Japan. According to the survey, though, there is plans to launch a JR TOICA card for the Nagoya area.
For those of you not familiar with their operation, here is a quick history of the cards in the Kansai area. First, JR launched the ICOCA card with two key features; one, a pre-paid season ticket and two, electronic cash, whereby money could be added manually then used either for shopping around the station or to use instead of train tickets for travel outside the season ticket’s area. A couple of years later the private railways launched the PiTaPa system, which had a quite different payment model. First, there was no season ticket, but instead between two nominated stations you got a 5% discount for each journey in your first month, rising to 15% for the third, if I remember correctly. These fares were post-pay; at the end of each month all your travel was added up and automatically withdrawn from a nominated account. For purchases other than train fares, there was also a standard electronic wallet system as for ICOCA. In addition, if you chose a credit card version of your PiTaPa card, when your available cash fell below a certain point, the card could be set to automatically recharge itself as you passed through the ticket gates. Note that although there are about seven or eight transport companies that support PiTaPa, when using another company’s transport your fares come from the electronic cash portion, and no discounts are available. This makes it a major pain for people like me who use two private railways and JR to get to work, as I would need to carry three separate cards, probably in three separate wallets to avoid interference, to get full benefit from the discounts.
In the meantime, JR announced their Smart ICOCA, which was an ICOCA card and credit card combined, with the similar auto top-up feature. In addition, ICOCA and PiTaPa got together and now allow the electronic cash to be used at each other’s ticket gates. Finally, Hankyu have just started a pre-pay system for season tickets (just like the original ICOCA), so holders of their Hana Plus PiTaPa-compatible credit cards can add a season ticket to their card, for people who’d rather manage their commuting fares that way round.
I almost forgot – the latest DoCoMo FOMA mobile phones also support some aspects of railway IC cards’ electronic cash system, but I’m not really sure of the exact capabilities.
Note also that the Tokyo JR SUICA cards can be used in the Kansai ICOCA area and vice versa. I’m not sure whether or not SUICA and PiTaPa interact, though.
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