Friday, September 12, 2008

JJNN Friday: Technology - 07

Welcome again to JJNN for Friday September 12th, 2008. Today we will be talking about suica and pasmo.

When I lived up north I used to travel on trains a whole lot. During the peak it would be about twice a day. Trains are used a lot more for commuting to work in this country than in America. The thing I hated about using the train was buying the ticket. I always went to different places so I always had to buy tickets of different prices. That means I would have to look up at a map like the one below and try to figure out how much money I was suppose to put in the ticket machine.

That is no easy task if you are in a hurry. I have been close to missing many a train because I was trying to figure out just how much the ticket was suppose to cost. Sure, you can buy the cheapest ticket and pay the difference at the stop you get off the train, but that is just a pain in the arse.

Way back in 1998 a company called Sky Rail Services decided to put make their train pass a little more high tech, They made their pass into an IC card, more widely known as a smart card. An IC card is a card that has a little integrated circuit on it. The integrated circuit contains some numbers. This is the user's unique ID. When the card is placed on the reader the card transmits the numbers over to the reader, The reader than sends those numbers to the central processing system. That system makes a note of what station you get on the train. When you use the card to get off the train it makes a note of that also and looks up the price of traveling between those two stations. It than deducts that money from that amount of money that you got stored on your card. Simple, fast and efficient.

JR (Japan Railways: the biggest train company in Japan) decided that it was not to be left in the technological dust. So, in 2001 JR released suica, which is another IC train pass. You can see a picture of a suica card below.

In 2007 another company put out a cared called pasmo. It is exactly the same as suica, but it was designed to be used on train systems that did not belong to JR. But, as it is now, it if you are in Tokyo you can use either suica or pasmo on all the trains and buses.

So this is old news, right? Yep. But, I found a new news story about using suica and pasmo on the buses. You can see the news story here.

Now that these IC card systems are on the buses as well as the trains a couple of problems have cropped up. About 60000 problems. As I explained above, the system has to tell the central processing system where and when you used your card. Sometimes on buses there is a data error when sending the card's information. This data error causes a buzzer to go off on the bus. When the drivers hear the buzzer most of them thought it was OK to reset the IC card system, but it turns out that in 60000 of those cases the data error occurs after the information has been sent to the central processing system. This means that they money for the ride is taken out of your account once before the reset and once after the reset. It may not be a lot of money but multiply that by 60000 and you get 11,000,000 yen. That is a lot of money that suica and pasmo should not have.

The companies are now training the drivers on what to do in case of data errors. They are also setting up a place people can go if they think they lost money. I will leave you with a bunch of commercials that show you all the things you can do with suica.

Notice that you can buy things at stores with it and even have it on your cell phone. What a great time we live in.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 電車(でんしゃ). It is pronounced densha and means train. I miss traveling by train every day. I guess there is more freedom with a car, but there is more to see when you travel to a place by train.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

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