Over 200 people marched through the centre of Barnsley last Saturday against the withdrawal of free travel for disabled and older people. The four South Yorkshire Labour-run councils’ decision has sparked outrage and weeks of Freedom Ride protests, where hundreds of people travel on trains and refuse to pay.
Protester Martin Rhodes is disabled and looking for work. He told Socialist Worker, “I was willing to travel all over to look for a job, like they ask, but now the price they’re asking for is just not economical.”
Last Saturday’s march was the biggest protest yet and followed a major concession from the four councils. It agreed to 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.
A meeting of the South Yorkshire Passenger Travel Executive agreed on Monday to sign off on the concessions.
One councillor, the only Lib Dem on the transport committee, proposed that free train travel be reinstated for older people as well as disabled. But that was not backed by Labour.
Rebecca Green from Barnsley Blind and Partially Sighted Association told Socialist Worker the new proposals were not enough.
She said, “It’s a good decision but they can do more. It shows that they did have the money there after all. People doubted our campaign at the start but we’ve shown protest works—without it we wouldn’t have got this far.”
An open air rally was held at the end of the march where the proposal to reinstate free travel for some was put to the vote. No one accepted it.
People unanimously voted to continue the campaign until free travel was fully reinstated.
Steve Lonsdale from Barnsley Retirees Action Group explained to Socialist Worker why he thought the Freedom Ride protests have been so popular.
“This Tory party are worse than Thatcher—they are taking everything off us but we’re fighting back,” he said. Young and old, people are up for it. We’re angry.
“People know if they take this off us, then they’ll be after our bus passes next.
“These councillors are Labour and trade unionists but they’re not sticking up for trade union members at all. I’ve voted Labour all my life but now I’ll think twice about it—in fact I won’t think twice at all, I won’t vote Labour again.”
Tosh McDonald, vice president of the rail union Aslef, told the rally that the union’s national conference had unanimously backed the campaign.
Sheffield trades council and bus drivers in the Unite union have also passed support for the Freedom Riders.
Some 200 people protested at the South Yorkshire Passenger Travel Executive meeting on Monday that signed off the concessions.
Campaigners are determined to get their free travel back in full.