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Posted on 2 April 2014 at 17:03 GMT

Fare-refusal protest demands restored rail passes in South Yorkshire

Around 120 mainly elderly and disabled people took part in Freedom Ride on 31st March. Groups of us caught trains from Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster, Mexborough and Penistone travelling to meet at Meadowhall - but without paying. We explained to train staff that we were not buying tickets, as a protest against South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) withdrawing our free train travel.

Holders of Senior Citizen and Mobility passes have had free train travel within South Yorkshire and on Northern Rail trains within West Yorkshire. Not now - we must now pay full fare. Sheffield to Leeds is now 10-60.

Also, our bus passes can now only be used on buses and trams after 9.30am. Previously, disabled people could travel at any time. Many need to travel early for jobs and voluntary work - some will have to give up. A mother of a learning disabled man told me how her son travelled five days a week to an unpaid scheme starting at 7.30am. He will have to stay at home. And passes now can't be used after 11pm. Aren't we supposed to go out in the evenings? Should we be in bed asleep by 11pm?

Paltry 'savings'

SYPTE claims that the changes are needed due to lack of money. But they will save very little. People who can wait until 9.30am to travel will do so. Some will travel by bus instead of train. Many people who travelled by train will simply not go - restricting our mobility still further. And empty seats on trains do not save money.

There is a lot of anger about this. Many of those braving the fares inspectors for the Freedom Ride had never been to a protest before. One pensioner who spoke at the rally at Meadowhall proudly told us that she had travelled there on the train alone and refused to pay. Several speakers explained why we need our travel concessions back, including a blind person, a mental health service user and a disabled student. Our ability to get out and about has been given such a low priority. Disability has extra costs but disabled people have already faced cuts to our benefits and services. Elderly and disabled people have more hospital and GP appointments - many mean travel before 9.30am.

Other speakers said that if extra money was needed, the bankers and rich should pay. And how is it that all the police standing around our rally could be afforded? One woman shouted: "What about the councillors?" Quite right - it's the local Labour councillors who've voted for this. We were told they had rejected the chance to buy rights for free train travel from one train company for only 329,000.

A victory on the day: the contingent on the Barnsley train was so large that a SYPTE official told them that being the first day it was a 'discretionary day'. So he wouldn't try to collect fares! But none of the train staff, on any of the trains, had been told about this.

Speakers from Unite Community and Barnsley trades council came and gave their support. The campaign will continue. There's another Freedom Ride next Monday.

By a Freedom Ride participant

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