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Athabasca holds firm on busing decision

One local resident says Cold Shot provides key accessibility to those with disabilities
Richard Loken and his son Shane wait to take a Cold Shot bus to Edmonton Feb. 2

ATHABASCA – The Town of Athabasca won’t be revisiting an earlier decision to refrain from providing funds to a private charter company, despite a letter from one local who said the company provides a key service for residents who may not qualify for the community transportation program.

Richard Loken, a long-time resident who first moved to the town in 1984 to work at the university, said Cold Shot provided a valuable service to the minority of rural Albertans who do not have a driver’s licence or a car, himself included.

“If we were to talk about barriers to life without a driver’s licence, we would be here for hours, especially in northern Alberta,” said Loken, who was born legally blind and is unable to obtain a licence.

Loken wrote a letter to the town’s seven councillors, expressing his disappointment in their Jan. 16 decision to not provide funding to the company, which had reached out to 23 municipalities in Alberta to help bridge a funding gap. Cold Shot asked Athabasca for just under $45,000, a price councillors balked at.

“Before I would personally be willing to invest, I would rather see the three municipalities pool the money together to supplement a service for what Cold Shot is providing,” added Mayor Rob Balay during the Feb. 6 discussion over Loken’s letter.

Loken’s main concern was that the community transportation program, a bus service operated by Athabasca County, the town, and Boyle, doesn’t cater to people who didn’t drive, focusing instead on seniors and people with disabilities.

“The program does not provide the same service at all … The majority of the 202 trips taken in 2023 were taken by people who were neither seniors nor disabled,” wrote Loken in a Jan. 23 letter. “In the 40 years I’ve lived here, I have never felt a need to take a bus to a location within the county.”

Loken also mentioned difficulties non-county residents may have, using his friend Lyndon Nerenberg as an example. Nerenberg, a Vancouverite who had spent time in Athabasca in the early 1990s, said his attempts to move back to Athabasca have been hindered by his lack of personal transport.

“I have a bucketload of medical issues that I deal with, and the treatments I need require trips into Edmonton,” said Nerenberg in a Jan 31 interview. “Having that bus service is an absolute lifeline, and one of the reasons I was contemplating the move was because I knew that bus service was there. If it goes away, I just can’t do it.”

Councillors remained convinced that they had chosen the right path however, with councillors Ida Edwards and Edie Yuill standing by their earlier decision.

The status of Cold Shot’s regional bus routes remains unclear — the company’s president, Sunny Balwaria, hasn’t returned repeated requests for comment, and a spokesperson for the company said they were unable to provide a comment without approval.

In the request for funding, Balwaria said the financial strain from the COVID-19 pandemic had already necessitated cutting five bus routes, and without funding would be at risk of cutting more.

As of Feb. 7, both Athabasca and Boyle remained on the company’s list of available routes.

Cole Brennan

About the Author: Cole Brennan

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