Defiant pensioners boarded trains without paying fares in protest at cuts to concessionary transport in South Yorkshire.
Disabled people and OAPs from across South Yorkshire refused to pay rail fares before gathering for a mass ‘freedom ride’ rally at Meadowhall railway station in opposition to cuts made by South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.
They are angry that SYPTE and the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority body cut back concessionary travel three weeks ago – something they say was a ‘lifeline’ for disabled people andOAPs who will otherwise be isolated.
Concessionary travel schemes were scaled back from April 1, so that free weekday travel on buses and trams is available only between 9.30am and 11pm, and locally-funded concessionary rail travel has been scrapped.
Both schemes will save £629,000 over the forthcoming financial year.
And, by the end of the month, the city centre Freebee bus in Sheffield will also end.
In Barnsley around 120 protesters joining the rally were met by police officers at the town’s station but, after a discussion, they were allowed to travel to Meadowhall without paying.
Jennifer Dunstan, spokesman for the Sheffield protest, travelled with around a dozen protesters from Sheffield rail station.
“We believe SYPTE are in breach of the European Equality Act 2010,” she said.
“They have removed our rights to travel on the train, they say to save funds - but at the same time ticket prices for able-bodied people have been reduced. We are absolutely incredulous, and will continue with these freedom rides until we get our travel reinstated.”
Protesters staging freedom rides say they have not been met with opposition from rail operators.
Barnsley Retirees Action Group says the numbers joining the protests are growing every time.
BRAG spokesman Tony Nutall said: “This one was fantastic – the rally was bigger and better than ever. The train from Barnsley was absolutely packed.
“Concessionary travel is a lifeline, quite literally in some cases, for older and disabled people. It’s economic madness to do away with the it. The knock-on effect socially and for businesses and the health service must be losing far more than the scheme is worth.”
SYPTE deputy interim director general David Young said: “We share the disappointment that these changes are necessary as a direct result of Government funding cuts.
“We are aware of the inconvenience this puts people to but, regrettably, reduced funding is forcing such undesirable changes.
“To achieve the savings needed, the alternative would have resulted in cutting even more bus services.
“Cutting buses was considered worse than cutting the concessionary travel funded by SYPTE. After all, to have a free bus pass but no bus to use it on is no benefit to anyone.”