New $20 plastic bills a headache for vending machines across the country

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Canada's vending-machine industry is once again taking the Bank of Canada to task over the introduction of new currency — this time the plastic $20 bill.

A spokesman for the Canadian Automated Merchandising Association is complaining the central bank didn't give operators enough time to reprogram their machines to take the new polymer bill.

"We needed months' more time to get ready," said association president Aire Koifman told CBC News. "It's very expensive for us. Our customers feel that we don't give them good service."

If this sounds familiar, it's because the industry made the same complaints over introduction of new, lighter loonie and toonie coins last year, which flummoxed vending machines and parking meters. Sometimes they spit the coins out, other times swallowed them and returned nothing. (Your correspondent lost a couple of loonies to parking meters as recently as last month.)

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Vending-machine and parking operators spent a lot of coin recalibrating their equipment to recognize the svelt new coins. CBC News reported last May that a federal government estimate put the total one-time cost to the vending industry at $40 million.

As far as the new bills are concerned, the Bank of Canada said it did all it could to help vending-machine manufacturers upgrade, including providing sample bills well in advance of public release, CBC News said. The bank said vendors were given six months notice before the new $20s went into circulation last November.

The bank's web site contains an undated notice on how it was working with operators of cash-handling machines, including vending equipment, bill counters and ATMs, to cope with the new bills.

Another Bank of Canada notice that appears to date from last May urges equipment operators to get ready for handling the new bills and offers guidance on how to get help from the bank.

Francois Bastien, whose company Ventrex operates more than 3,000 vending machines in Ontario and Quebec, told CBC News upgrading to the new $20 billion has cost about $100,000. That's on top of the money Ventrex spent to adapt to the new coins.

"The coins were one thing we were dealing with," he said. "Now we're dealing with the bills. It seems to be never-ending."

[ Related: New $20 bill frustrates vending machine companies ]

Bastien estimated the overall cost of the changeover to his industry will reach a quarter of a billion dollars "whether it's casinos, parking meters, self-serve checkout units in retail stores."

And it's not over. The central bank is due to introduce new $5 and $10 bills late this year. Bastien and his colleagues hope it does a better job of helping them prepare for that.