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Backlash in Japan over sales of train e-ticket records

Jay Alabaster | July 8, 2013
One of the country's largest train operators has teamed with Hitachi to sell data based on the NFC train passes.

JR East was already facing criticism over a newly installed entrance at a busy station in the eastern part of Tokyo. The gates at the "nonowa" entrance only work with Suica or compatible touch cards, so travellers with traditional tickets or passes must take another route.

"No one without an IC Card gets in?," asked the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, in the headline of an article that said many locals consider the entrance to be a form of discrimination.

Another train organization was forced to change its policies after an embarrassing leak last year. An employee of Tokyo Metro, which runs the city's subway system, disclosed the "Pasmo" train pass history of a female passenger, forcing the company to cancel a service that allowed users to view their histories online.

Suica, first launched in 2001, uses NFC technology developed by Sony. Initially offered as train passes that had to be periodically recharged, the technology is now built into credit cards, mobile phones and even USB readers that can be plugged into PCs for home shopping. Payment can now be made in many convenient stores and restaurants, as well as taxi cabs and vending machines.

In March, the most popular regional electronic train pass systems in use throughout Japan signed agreements so that they could all be used interchangeably. The data sold by JR East currently covers only users of its own Suica system.

JR East is the largest of Japan's seven overland railway companies, formed when a nationwide rail system run by the government was broken up in 1987. JR East's domain covers about half of Japan's main island, including the crowded Tokyo capital and surrounding metropolis. It runs everything from daily commuters to the bullet trains that operate on its territory, all of which are compatible with Suica.

 

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