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Natl compatibility near for ICs

Imagine a single integrated circuit card you could use to pay for train and bus fare throughout most of the country. This is the goal of the Japan Railway group companies and other major transport service operators who sources say have decided to make the 10 types of IC cards they issue interchangeable.

The envisaged service would allow businesspeople, tourists and other travelers to pay railway, subway and bus fares in many parts of the nation with the IC cards they regularly use at home.

The companies plan to establish a study panel to examine the plan by the end of this year, and hope to make their cards interchangeable in spring 2013. Participating firms include East Japan Railway Co., West Japan Railway Co. and operators of other major railway and subway services in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the Nagoya area and the Kansai and Kyushu regions.

The technological specifications of the different IC cards are basically the same, and they can be made interchangeable if the issuing companies and organizations agree to do so.

Small-scale bus operators and some others had been reluctant, due to the expense of the system changes needed to be part of the envisaged network. With the spread of IC cards, however, they have decided they must move in that direction to offer greater convenience for passengers, the sources said.

Some IC cards are already interchangeable, mainly those issued by JR East and some other JR companies.

In the Tokyo metropolitan area, Pasmo cards issued by railway, subway and bus services are interchangeable with Suica cards issued by JR East. In the Kansai region, JR West's Icoca is interchangeable with PiTaPa, available for a number of non-JR railway services in the region.

Pasmo is currently usable only for railway, subway and bus services in the metropolitan area, as well as for JR East services. But if all 10 IC card types are made interchangeable, Pasmo cards could also be used for services offered by Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido), Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), JR West and Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu).

It would also become good for non-JR railway services in the Kansai region.

Shikoku Railway Co. (JR Shikoku) has not introduced IC card services, and there is no company or organization in the Shikoku region that is considering joining the study panel, the sources said.

Japan, South Korea and Singapore are among the parties jointly conducting technical experiments to develop interchangeable IC cards for transportation systems in a number of Asian nations and territories. The latest move toward the launch of such IC card services in Japan could pave the way for realizing interchangeability overseas.

"Interchangeable service nationwide is indispensable for improving user convenience. We already have the technical know-how," said a senior official of a railway operator, indicating interchangeable services likely will spread quickly.

IC fare cards can be purchased and replenished at ticket machines and elsewhere, and fares are usually deducted when passengers hold the cards close to readers at ticket gates.

Suica was the first such card in the nation. More than 30 million have been issued since its launch in 2001.

(Dec. 20, 2010)
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