Cash-handling machines must be upgraded to handle new $10 banknotes

Hundreds of thousands of cash-handling machines across the country have had to be upgraded to handle Canada's distinctive new $10 bill, featuring a vertical portrait of Nova Scotia civil rights advocate Viola Desmond, while some others still awaiting changes are rejecting the distinctive banknotes.

Ensuring vending and other machines can read the new polymer note requires a software upgrade for each device.

Spencer Baxter, owner of Value Vending Services in Nova Scotia, said his 125 devices simply won't accept the new bills. Upgrading them all, which he has not yet had a chance to do, costs about $10 each, excluding driving and labour time to get to the machines at various locations.

"It's time and money," Baxter said from Halifax. "Each time they change them, we need to upgrade."

Since their introduction in mid-November, the Bank of Canada has made 19.6 million of the new notes available to financial institutions and almost 16.9 million of those are now considered to be in circulation. By contrast, a total of 158 million $10 notes were in circulation in total at the end of November, the central bank said.

Metrolinx, the Toronto area's regional transit agency, said it knew the new bills would be an issue for its Presto and other machines used for purchasing rides on buses, subways and commuter trains.

Most devices have already been reprogrammed, said Anne Marie Aikins, senior media manager with the transit agency. The upgrades, she said, are simply the cost of doing business in an increasingly automated society.

"The beautiful $10 bill is vertical in its image, which has thrown off vending machines," she said. "We have to make sure they're all updated. It's not a huge deal. It's just a matter of getting to them."

The Bank of Canada said it had been working with financial institutions and equipment manufacturers to minimize the impact of the new $10 bill on the cash-handling industry. The note, the bank said, keeps the machine-readable features of Canada's other polymer notes and is printed on the same material.

The bank also said it provided test notes in advance to equipment manufacturers to help ensure machine readiness.

In addition, with the gradual roll-out, relatively few of the bills have so far made their way into public wallets and purses and then into machines. That has helped create breathing room for owners and operators to reprogram their devices.

"People, like me, I got my first one and I'm keeping it," said Aikins. "By the time [the bill] gets broadly into circulation, the fix will be in."

Chris Stegehuis, president of the Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association, said the introduction of the Viola Desmond bill appears to have gone more smoothly than some earlier changes.

"There was new software required for our bill validators, as is expected with any coinage or bill change," Stegehuis said. "No problem with it at all."