Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/810/18570
Freedom riders on a storm
A freedom rider
Elderly and disabled people in South Yorkshire are still catching trains and refusing to pay. We've now held five 'Freedom Ride' protests against the withdrawal of our free train travel and restriction of our bus and tram concessions by mainly Labour councillors on the Integrated Transport Authority (ITA).
Each week groups of protesters catch trains in Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Mexborough, travelling to meet at Meadowhall. Over 100 take part every time, with attendances recently increasing, so any ITA hopes that protests would fizzle out proved unfounded.
At the fourth Freedom Ride, Barnsley protesters, by far the biggest group, were told by the Northern Rail manager that there would be no more free travel. Next week they would be made to pay. But no one was put off. Freedom Ride 5 was the biggest yet!
Police organised a blockade, physically preventing Barnsley protesters from catching the train to Meadowhall. But they failed to stop the protest. Instead of going home, around 85 elderly and disabled people crossed the bridge to the other platform. Just in time to catch a train with 17 of us from Sheffield already on as we'd been tipped off by phone.
Over 100 of us went on a scenic ride out to Penistone, waving at the police as the train pulled out. In addition, another 30 travelled free from Doncaster and Mexborough to Meadowhall.
Aslef, the train drivers' union, is supporting the campaign. It's featured on their national website and they gave a donation. Their vice-president addressed the Freedom Ride 3 rally. Also, Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre are taking the issue to judicial review on behalf of two disabled clients on the grounds that the ITA failed to comply with the Equality Act 2010. Councillors are looking at the cost of defending the action.
The annual saving resulting from these cuts is only £629,000 between trains, buses and trams and across South Yorkshire. With 265,000 senior citizen and disabled pass holders that's £2.37 each a year or less than 5p a pass holder a week. Our mobility is being restricted for such a small amount of money. That's the outcome of Labour councillors being unwilling to fight Con-Dem cuts to council funding.
Protesters' persistence has resulted in South Yorkshire Passenger Transport inviting a delegation of campaigners to meet them on 8 May. But the day before that we have Freedom Ride 6! We will be claiming our free rail travel yet again.
In The Socialist 7 May 2014:
Socialist Party election campaigning
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns