01/14/2013 07:30 EST | Updated 03/16/2013 05:12 EDT

New polymer $20 bills a vending machine headache

Vending machine operators are calling on the Bank of Canada to do a better job introducing the new $5 and $10 bills later this year after they say upgrading their machines to handle the new polymer $20 bill has been a major headache.

As many as half a million machines that scan bank notes — including food-and-drink machines, parking lot machines, casino slots and self-serve checkouts — needed reprogramming to accept the radically redesigned $20 bills, the most popular denomination in Canada.

Aire Koifman, president of the Canadian Automatic Distribution Association, said the Bank of Canada did not give vending machine operators enough notice.

"We needed months' more time to get ready," said Koifman.

"It's very expensive for us. Our customers feel that we don't give them good service," he said.

The Bank of Canada said in a written statement it has done all it can to work with the machine manufacturers to help them upgrade, including providing sample bills well in advance of their public release.

The Bank of Canada gave vendors six months to upgrade before the new bills went into circulation in November.

New polymer bills cost company extra $100K

Francois Bastien's company Ventrex operates more than 3,000 vending machines in Ontario and Quebec. He said he has spent much of the last year adapting them to take Canada's new coins.

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

For most machines, it is an upgrade to the software but some of them have to be replaced entirely. Bastien estimated the new 20s alone have cost his company about $100,000.

"Probably a quarter of a billion dollars for all of our industry whether it's casinos, parking meters, self-serve checkout units in retail stores," he said. "And that expense will continue on as new fives and 10s come on the market as well."

The Bank of Canada said it is planning to release the new $5 and $10 bills at the same time, tentatively scheduled for late 2013.