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The Almighty Buck

Sony's Cashless Smart Card Catching on in Japan 213

Spasemunki writes "The New York Times reports here on the success in Japan of an RF-based, cash replacement smart card developed by Sony. Used primarily by Japan's largest railway company, the cards carry a declining cash balance (no link to your credit card or bank account if it is lost or stolen), and conducts transactions at railway turnstiles in 1/5 of a second. Mass transit remains one of the big areas for many folks where you just can't live without cash- this would be a big improvement over digging in the couch for exact change ... "
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Sony's Cashless Smart Card Catching on in Japan

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  • by BillsPetMonkey ( 654200 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:41AM (#5518929)
    Japanese commuters have had plastic travel since around 1991 in most Tokyo stations, paid directly by your company. The only reason you would buy a ticket is to use a route other than your regular commuter one.

    News a bit thin today?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:45AM (#5518942)
    Hong Kong has had a similar system for years - the Octopus card. An RF smartcard where you can add money when you need them. Your balance can even go in minus for a couple of trips until the next time you get a chance to fill it up (the card has a 50HKD deposit).
  • Belgium : proton (Score:5, Informative)

    by selderrr ( 523988 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:46AM (#5518947) Journal
    We've got this for quite a few years now in belgium. All small stores have cardreaders now. Parking meters, payphones, cola machines, even movie theaters. I rarely carry cash anymore. The only disadvantages so far are that it doesn't work (yet) outside belgium, and that the readers seem to be a bit more fragile than coin-operated machines. The coke machine in our building has a crashed card reader once every 2 week. But apparently the machine resets itself every day, so the next morning they're back OK.

    For the merchants, the advantage is 2fold : no cash in the store so less attractive to thieves, but also there is no permanent connection needed with the bank : the cardreader can store the balance internally, and upload a transaction log at the end of the day. This makes proton payment a lot cheaper for the merchants (payment by visa costs a percentage, and payment by bankcard costs a fixed fee)
  • A few comments... (Score:4, Informative)

    by BJH ( 11355 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:50AM (#5518961)

    Japan in general, and the Tokyo area in particular, has had a form of prepaid card for use at train stations for several years. These cards are of the "magnetic stripe" type, and have to be fed through the ticket gate to work. The ticket gates have a tendency to jam occasionally, requiring human intervention to get them working again.

    The main advantage of the Suica cards is that they just have to be held against a panel on the ticket gate - as they're RF based, there's no moving parts to get jammed.

    The main disadvantage of these particular cards is that they don't offer the same flexibility in routes that the "old" cards have - you have to be travelling between two JR (Japan Rail) stations to be able to use them. I commute on a train that switches from a JR train to a subway train (separate organization - same train) halfway along my route, which means I can't use the Suica cards.

    In spite of what the article says, I haven't really noticed them being used for anything other than commuting.
  • by oliverjms ( 548028 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:54AM (#5518969)
    They are currently testing this on the underground in London: ca rd.shtml
  • I'm in Japan... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mossfoot ( 310128 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:55AM (#5518975) Homepage
    .... and I can tell you first hand these are pretty darn efficient. After all, having a train pass is just for a set point A to point B, but with the Suica Card, you just use it whenever you need to. I still prefer to use my bike when I can, but when I take the train I see more and more people using the Suica card. Of course to get the card it costs about 2000 yen (20 bucks give or take) but once you have it you don't need to get another.
  • by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:58AM (#5518984) Homepage Journal
    Riders take the cards to vending machines and add as much money as they want.
    I'm not sure this is such a good idea. It would be better to have a fixed maximum. That way, losing the card involves no more risk than losing paper money. I recall a similar initiative in France a while ago, where they had an upper limit. If there's a cap you're not putting all your eggs into one basket, and you get a pretty good idea of how much money you are carrying even when you are not near a card reading machine.
  • Hello? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @09:59AM (#5518989)
    The Netherlands have this for like 5 years. Ok no RF, but it has a chip in it. And its finally catching on, mostly because parking lot and train ticket devices require it. Actually I only have to carry 'real money' when going to a club or so. Oh, and instead of credit cards we use bank cards with PIN, which work better also (minimum fraud). So just 2 plastic cards is what you need.
  • by BJH ( 11355 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:15AM (#5519037)
    Believe it or not, it's an *improvement* over the old system. Normal train passes here in Japan can only be bought for 1, 3 or 6 month spans, with the cost per month lower the longer the span. That meant that, in order to get the cheapest fare (which is all your company will pay out), you had to buy the six-month pass, and carry the equivalent of several hundred dollars (if you live far out of Tokyo, it could be over a $US1000) in your pocket in the form of a thin piece of plastic. If you lost it, tough.

    At least with the SUica cards you can control how much you want to keep in the card yourself.
  • Old news (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:24AM (#5519063)
    As people have already stated, this kind of technology is already in use in many Asian countries (e.g. Hong Kong and Singapore) and even in old Europe :) It's not just for transportation (bus, train, taxi, parking, etc), it's also used for small purchases (e.g. 7-Eleven).

    There is no personal tracking involved - nobody knows who owns a card (a card might have a unique ID on it, but you don't give any form of identification to buy a card).

    Do you yanks ever wonder that perhaps your rabid paranoia about privacy is perhaps getting in the way of progress? (I can hear growling from here...)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:25AM (#5519066)
    Malaysia has the exact same system which is used for paying road toll, bus fares and for Light Rail Transit ticket. It's also been extended to be used in Car Parks. It's called the Touch-N-GO card
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:25AM (#5519067)
    are anchor tags [] so hard?
    London Underground are also testing this [].

    Ahh, I ways wondered what the yellow circles were, thanks for the link :)
  • by mvanhorn ( 60852 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:27AM (#5519076) Homepage
    Having lived in NYC my whole life, before coming to Tokyo, I can say Suica is pretty different than Metrocard. You do not even have to take the thing out of your wallet to use it. No dirty metocard readers that keep you stuck for 5 minutes because they can't read your card. On the negative side, I don't think there are "unlimited" suica cards, but there are unlimited commuter passes. These work like metrocard in that they need contact with the machine, but you just insert it, and it races through the machine in a split second, and you grab it again on the other side.I've yet to have a problem with a machine not reading the card.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:33AM (#5519093) Journal
    They're called Touch n Go cards here in Malaysia.

    They can be used for the light rail transport in the capital, highway toll booths (proximity or stick them in a gadget aka smartTAG that allows remote deduction/payment at up to 40kph[1]), a few parking lots and you can reload them at certain bank ATMs.

    Of course there are the usual complaints of double deductions etc.

    And I wonder about pranksters deducting from cards just for fun (you often don't need to take the card out of your wallet/purse for it to work).

    Also wonder if the organized crime syndicates have figured out a way to "make money".


    [1] If the transaction doesn't go through the toll bar doesn't go up, so caution is encouraged :).
  • by psi6030 ( 105079 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:35AM (#5519100) Homepage
    The MTR in HK has this - buy an Octopus card [] for (refundable deposit) HK$50, use it up buy sweeping it over entry and exit to train stations or on buses, and top it up when it gets low (balance displayed on each sweep).

  • by Mr. Theorem ( 33952 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:35AM (#5519102)
    No, no--the NYC Metrocard still needs to be swiped, much like the regular Metrorail farecard we have here in DC.

    Smart cards--like DC Metro's Smarttrip--are far cooler. You don't need to swipe them--just get them close to the reader. You don't need to take it our of your wallet: just put your wallet up to the reader and that gets it close enough.

    Even better, you can register it with Metro and if you lose your card with $100 on it, you just have to pay $5 for a replacement card and you get all the value you had on the card.

    In July, they should have Smarttrip readers on all the buses too, so that transfers will be automagic--no need to remember to get a paper transfer from one of those machines that always seems to be out of paper. Bus boarding should speed up dramatically too.

  • by k_187 ( 61692 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @10:45AM (#5519138) Journal
    Nope, here in DC the Metrorail has pretty much the same thing. They call it smartrip and you have an account with them that you put money into and then your trips are deducted from that. They're pretty money (for lack of a better term ;) especially in that since they only cost 5 bucks I've been able to get them replaced twice and saved myself 30 compared to the normal cards they use.
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @12:00PM (#5519430) Homepage
    According to one of my English students who works for a major manufacturer, later this year a new Japanese cell phones will be released that have the Suica card functionality built in. Then, you won't even have to take the thing out of your pocket to get past the gate.

    Make no mistake about the Japanese economy,'s in the doldrums with no way out. The highest American national debt during the Reagan years was $4 trillion, when Ronnie was emptying the treasury to bury the Commies. The current Japanese national debt is $6 trillion.

  • by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Saturday March 15, 2003 @08:49PM (#5521526) Homepage
    As everyone and his dog pointed out there are no shortage of similar cards elsewhere, but none of the names can match up with the profound punnery that applies to the Japanese card.

    From another web site:

    "Suica stands for Super Urban Intelligent Card, which has the double meaning of being an IC card that makes traveling smooth (sui-sui in Japanese)."

    What they leave out though, is that the cards are a green and white colour, that of a Japanese watermelon, known as, wait for it... Suica!
  • by stuartcw ( 93333 ) on Sunday March 16, 2003 @12:39AM (#5522256) Homepage
    I use my Suica card every working day in part of my commute between Yokohama and Tokyo.

    Once a month I renew my travel pass by placing the card in the machine in the station. The touch screen UI is quite sophisticated allowing you decide when the pass will start and giving you the choice of whether you need a reciept or not so that you can claim the cost on your expenses.

    The best feature is that you can also "charge" the card with money and use it as a travel card outside of your normal route. i.e. If you pass for the journey between B to C and one day have to take the train from A to D i.e A-B-C-D it will deduct the charge for the A-B and C-D sections and not charge you for B-C which is covered by your pass.

    Every station has notebook PC in the office where the station staff can take the card and look at it if there was a problem. During the first week of introduction there were a few glitches and the stationmaster reset the "bad" count on my card after my card prevented me from getting out of the station thinking that I had jumped the gate at the previous station.

    Recently while playing with the machine in the station I found that it can give you a printout of your last 50 journies which could cause privacy concerns for some people.

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