Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Case of RFID in Japanese public transport

Tokyo has rather a complex transportation system. First there are many lines, second they are operated by various private independent players cutting the entire network into smaller pieces. Each line featuring its own pricing schemes makes ticketing and payment as complex as mobile roaming. Apparently, RFID provides a nice abstraction from this underlying complexity. Using PASMO, a standard chip card players all over Japan have agreed on enables a complete track & trace of passengers, measuring entry and exit, and adjust the fare to the travelled distance accordingly - RFID sits like an "application layer" on top of the pricing scheme.
As of April 2009, over 11 million card (wikipedia) have been issued.

Watching the masses of people rushing through the gates shows the convenience and necessity of RFID. Nevertheless, I'm surprised that people still rather stick to their magnetic cards than using the Felica feature of their phones. I probably have to watch out for Mobile Suica eastern Japan...
Comparing this clear advantage with the open access system of public transport in wesgtern Europe makes the case for RFID much more diffcult. Sometimes it can be easier to introduce new technology than changing tradition of a complex payment system...

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