Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 54 (photostories)


Advances in Ticketing Systems
In-station Ticket Sales and Multi-Access Reservation System (MARS)

Seating Ledger Turntable

As more passengers wanted reserved seats, this turntable was devised to make allocation easier. It consisted of a 4-m, motor-operated circular part holding seating ledgers, surrounded by a 50-cm wide desk with telephones. Operators who allocated reserved seats sat at the fixed desk. Ledgers in each section covered 8 days of train departures (eight volumes covering that day’s departure to the same day of the following week). Operators removed the ledger for the train and day to be booked, and replaced the ledger after booking the seats as the turntable came around again.
Photo: Seating ledger booking turntable (JR Systems)

Birth of MARS1: Tokyo Station Counter in 1965

The number of reserved seat bookings increased in line with the rapidly growing Japanese economy and manual booking was reaching its limits. To solve the problem, the MARS1 prototype was constructed to make computerized reserved seat allocation practical. Reserved seat allocation started in June 1959 for some trains. The scale of MARS1 allowed it to handle 4000 seat bookings/day using 13 networked terminals. With the opening of the shinkansen in October 1964, the number of reserved seat bookings topped 100,000 seats/ day. A networked real-time ticketing system was operated from February 1964 to process everything from managing seat allocation to automatic issuing of reserved seat tickets, allowing efficient management of the increased volume of reserved seats. About 500 MARS terminals for issuing automatic tickets were installed at shinkansen stations and other main stations in October 1965, increasing the speed of reserved seat sales.
Photo: MARS1 host computer (JR Systems)
Photo: Tokyo Station ticket booking counter in 1965 (JR Systems)

Evolution of MARS105

The number of train tickets including reserved seats increased annually due to expansion of the shinkansen network and the huge increase in the number of limited expresses. In these circumstances, the MARS105 system entered service in September 1972 to handle the increasing volumes and to connect with counter terminals automatically issuing basic-fare tickets and non-reserved seat, limited-express tickets. MARS105 was expanded soon after it came into operation. By October 1974, it could process 1 million reserved seats/day, encompassed 1650 terminals, and handled daily sales of 540,000 tickets. New terminals that came into use with MARS105 could print 192 characters. Although the number of sections and types of tickets increased greatly, station counters with the new terminals did not need ticket boxes holding tickets with pre-printed sections, routes, prices and other information, offering a tidier counter environment and slashing the time needed to service customers.

State of the Art MARS501

MARS ticket sales continued growing year on- year, with daily sales of about 1.6 million tickets in 2002. Operations were switched to MARS501 in July 2002 to process the huge workload securely and quickly. The new system was a well-balanced combination of mainframe and servers. A migration to counter terminals that could handle high speeds and a large variety of tickets was also made.
Photo: MARS501 system in machine room at JR Systems (JR Systems)

Onboard Supplementary Ticket Terminals

Need for Changes

Advances in automated sales and checking of tickets onboard trains have been far behind ticketing services at stations, and all onboard work was—for many years until recently—performed manually in the traditional manner since railways first started. Conductors required a long time to write special supplementary tickets by hand. To save time, some sections used special tickets (opposite) with pre-printed station names and fares and the conductor simply punched holes for required items. In addition, conductors checked tickets and fares with devices such as quick reference matrixes, causing careless mistakes. The conductor also had to tabulate ticket sales after arriving, check figures against collected money, prepare a ledger, and present everything to the conductors’ office, where other staff had to double-check everything again requiring a huge amount of extra work. However, technology advances at the time of the establishment of JR East allowed ticketing devices to be more compact, lightweight and portable. As a result, onboard ticket terminals were introduced to speed-up onboard sales, and lighten the burden of tabulation, statistics preparation, reporting, and auditing.

1G Terminal

Development started in 1988 and about 700 portable terminals had been introduced on a limited basis for some sections and stations in 1990. The terminals weighed 690 g with tickets printed on thermal paper. Because conductors in Greater Tokyo were used to map-type supplementary tickets, stations were input using a map-type panel. A system was created where sales data was consolidated via POS terminals at crew offices and transmitted to the station income management system.

Ticket Printer

Onboard supplementary ticket terminals at stations also needed to handle magnetic tickets following the introduction of automatic wickets. Because many tickets were for long distance travel, magnetically encoded 85-mm tickets (season-ticket size) had to be issued. As a consequence, a ticket printer was developed for use with the onboard supplementary ticket terminal and about 400 were introduced at major stations, etc., in 1993.

2G Terminal

Improvements were made to the 1G terminal and about 4700 of the new 2G terminals were introduced in 1991. The basic operation was the same as the 1G terminal but major improvements included faster printing (cut from 8 to 5 s per ticket), and portability (10-mm thinner). The 1G terminals were transferred to special ticketing work at stations.

3G Terminal

More memory capacity was becoming necessary for onboard supplementary ticket terminals as the business system diversified, especially for compatibility with automatic wickets introduced across most of Greater Tokyo from 1990 and to handle changes in fares when travelling between areas served by the different JR group operators starting in 1997. Old 1G and 2G terminals were replaced by 6000 new 3G terminals in 1997 after 4 years of development, marking the first full-scale model change. Major features included (1) an additional function for issuing magnetically encoded Edmondson tickets (short distance), (2) the ability to display kanji (Chinese characters) on the LCD, (3) addition of a touch panel, and (4) more memory capacity and a faster CPU. However, the size and weight were slightly larger than the 2 terminal due to the new functions.

4G Terminal

The aging 3G terminals were replaced by 4500 new 4G models in spring 2005. They were the first to have a separate main unit and printer and both were commercial products.
The reasons for using commercial products were to cut weight, costs and development time. The main unit is a personal digital assistant (PDA) running a general-purpose operating system. A full model change was made to the terminal as the interface was upgraded to include innovations such as a full-colour, map-panel, station name input device inherited from the 1G terminal. The update added features such as automatic route suggestion for onboard tickets, greatly increasing operability. Moreover, the main unit and printer are connected by Bluetooth wireless. However, the need for onboard fare adjustment practically disappeared in the Greater Tokyo area after the introduction of Suica smart cards and the function for issuing magnetically encoded Edmondson tickets was soon dropped.
An 85-mm ticket printer was developed by a company in the JR East group following the widespread use of more automatic ticket gates at shinkansen transfers and by other companies in the JR group, requiring 85-mm tickets to handle special ticketing at stations. These printers are much smaller and lighter than the previous printer and also connect by Bluetooth.
Photo: Special section supplementary ticket (map type) (JR East)
Photo: 1G Onboard supplementary ticket terminal and ticket printer (JR East)
Photo: 2G Onboard supplementary ticket terminal (JR East)
Photo: 3G Onboard supplementary ticket terminal (JR East)
Photo: 4G Roll type ticket printer (JR East)
Photo: 85-mm ticket printer (4G) (JR East)
Photo: 4G PDA and printer (JR East)
Photo: PDA (JR East)
Photo: 4G PDA and printer issuing ticket (JR East)
This article was originally published in Japanese in The 20th year History of JR East by JR East.