Socialist Worker

South Yorkshire Labour councils buckling over Freedom Ride protests

by Dave Gibson
Issue No. 2403

Protesting in Sheffield outside the SYPTE building

Protesting in Sheffield outside the SYPTE building (Pic: Matthew Reeve)


Up to 150 people joined an angry protest at Barnsley rail station on Monday of this week to demand free train travel for older people.

The protest, the seventh Freedom Ride, followed a significant climb-down from local Labour politicians who are used to getting their own way.

Four South Yorkshire Labour-run  councils withdrew free travel from disabled and older people from 1 April this year. But after six Freedom Rides—where hundreds of people travelled on trains and refused to pay—they are buckling. 

The councils have put a proposal to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE). It will give free travel for disabled people and carers on trains and buses at any time, and half price travel on trains for older people from 9.30am to 11pm.

This is particularly important for disabled people as it restores everything they had cut six weeks ago. It is clearly not good enough for older people. The SYPTE will consider the proposal at a meeting on Monday of next week.

A squad of transport police blocked protesters from travelling on a train in Barnsley on Monday of this week. But campaigners were buoyed by the fact that their action is starting to get results. Ian Paisley, a retired engineer, said, “Today was exhilarating. I didn’t expect so many people to turn up after news of the concessions. 

“The enthusiasm to fight to get free train travel back is as strong as ever. And there were new people today, which shows a growing mood.”

Over the last week there has been an intensification of protests.

Transport police blocked the sixth Freedom Ride at Barnsley station on Wednesday of last week. In Doncaster a small number of protesters boarded a train, only to find it was not going to move.

Blocked

But protesters successfully travelled to Barnsley from Sheffield without paying. The Barnsley and Sheffield protesters then held a march round Barnsley centre, rallying outside the Town Hall.

The following day up to 70 campaigners lobbied the SYPTE building in Sheffield and kept up a non-stop barrage of noise for two hours. 

News of the compromise deal came out later that day. Rebecca Green is a member of Barnsley Blind and Partially Sighted Association. 

She said, “I am pleased that campaigning has won a good decision for disabled people. It shows that protest works. But I think we should fight on to win back free train travel for older people.”

Retired youth worker Keith Watkins said, “Protest has achieved success—and it’s a success for caring for one another.”

Retired miner Eddie Ryan said the shift by councils was a “positive result”. 

But he added, “We want to keep going until we get back to the status quo, which is free train travel for older people as well. 

“If London pensioners get free train travel then so should we.”

The RMT transport union last week pledged “full support” for the campaign. RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said the cuts to free travel were a “national scandal” that left people isolated “as prisoners in their own homes”.

The Barnsley Retirees Action Group plans a demonstration through Barnsley on Saturday of this week.

Demonstrate to reinstate free train travel—Saturday 17 May, assemble 11am, Barnsley Eastgate. Lobby the SYPTE—Monday 19 May, assemble 1pm, Regent Street, Barnsley

 


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