We’ll fight until bitter end for free travel

Scores of pensioners gathered together to board a train to Meadowhall as part of their freedom ride campaign
Scores of pensioners gathered together to board a train to Meadowhall as part of their freedom ride campaign
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“I’m 70 and I think I deserve to travel free”, said grandmother Mary Humpleby.

The former sewing machinist was one of the loudest voices at the gathering of around 100 protestors fighting the loss of their free train travel – as well as reduced concessionary travel on buses and trams.

Elderly and disabled people waved banners which read ‘United we ride’, chanted slogans and songs as they vowed to continue their fight to the bitter end at Barnsley railway station.

Mary, of Barnsley, added: “I have worked all my life. I’ve never had anything for free apart from my travel pass and now they are trying to take it away.

“I am really angry, I wouldn’t be stood here doing this if I wasn’t.

“I’ve got a grandson who is going to read about the protest and probably think I am a bit daft.

“We shouldn’t have to be doing this, if only they had talked to us before.

“I didn’t get to know about the changes until I went into the ticket office the week before it all happened.

“I will come every week and we won’t stop.”

The ‘freedom ride’ protest has been growing in numbers since it began six weeks ago.

Yesterday was the first time campaigners were unable to board trains and ride while refusing to pay.

They were blocked from boarding a Meadowhall-bound service last week but changed platforms and rode to Penistone instead.

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive stopped locally-funded concessionary rail travel and scaled back free weekday travel on buses and trams from April to save £629,000.

Transport chiefs said they are aware of the ‘inconvenience’ for people but cuts were ‘forcing such undesirable changes on our community’. Discussions had involved community groups and changes were delayed for as long as possible.

One freedom rider said the ‘inconvenience’ of cuts meant she now had to walk for an hour each day to take her child to school.

Disabled mum Jennifer Bush, of Gleadless, said the demonstration was a ‘peaceful and completely legal process’ rather than individuals ‘skipping fares’.

She added: “I am a disabled person and the mother of a disabled person, and I am one of many who cannot afford to take my children to school.

“I have to walk from where I live to my son’s nursery, I’m here because I can’t afford to pay the bus fare.”

A group from Sheffield managed to ride from the city’s railway station to Barnsley without paying, but a similar group from Doncaster did not make it.

The protest heard they were told the train would not move unless they paid for tickets and after 20 minutes without moving they alighted.

Now all hopes are pinned on a meeting at the South Yorkshire Transport Passenger Executive this afternoon, with campaigners hoping there could be a concession or resolution found.

Many have vowed to continue their battle if the outcome is not in their favour.

Fran Postlethwaite, of Barnsley Retirees Action Group, said: “They want us to go away, we are not going to go away.

“We will continue what we have been fighting for since April 1.”

Union backs protesters in bid to save ‘lifeline’ for disabled and older people

Campaigners were presented with a £50 cheque towards their fight by a union.

Ray Jackson, national chairman of the retired members section of Aslef, also spoke to crowds who gathered outside Barnsley railway station yesterday.

He told The Star there were fears the changes to travel would set a precedent for other cuts.

Mr Jackson, of Sheffield, added: “If this continues unabated then in a year or 18 months you will start to hear of other hard-won concessions being taken away.

“And then they will be taken away from other people.

“It’s setting precedents.”

Messages of support from other unions, including the PCS, were also read out at the gathering.

Dave Gibson, of Barnsley Trades Council, told the crowds: “We have the right to free train travel, every elderly and disabled person across the country should have the same right.

“We are not going to stand back and let them take it – keep fighting.”

David Kirkham, from UK Uncut Sheffield, said the concessions were a ‘lifeline’ for disabled and older people.

Passengers urged to carry a valid ticket

Train operator Northern Rail said it was urging passengers to carry valid tickets to stop them getting into ‘trouble’.

The company, which is in charge of the day-to-day running of Barnsley station owned by Network Rail, would not comment on the cost of staffing yesterday’s protest.

A spokesman said: “We respect the right to a peaceful protest and can understand disappointment about the withdrawal of the concessionary travel previously funded by SYPTE.

“However, travelling on a train without paying for your journey is against the law.

“We don’t want to see anyone get into trouble so we are urging all passengers to ensure they are carrying a valid ticket for the journey they intend to make.”

British Transport Police confirmed it had sent four officers to the protest.

A spokesman added: “We were there to facilitate a peaceful protest. These are officers who had been on duty anyway.”