Freedom Riders ride again

Sharron Milsom, Sheffield North Socialist Party

Rotherham town hall was flooded by angry pensioners and disabled people demanding free travel on 5 January.

The 45 “Freedom Riders” lobbied the budget-setting meeting of Labour-controlled Sheffield City Region Combined Authority. We were at Rotherham town hall not only to continue our campaign for the reinstatement of pensioners’ free train travel and bus concessions (see previous issues), but to oppose all the cuts we knew they were about to impose.

After a noisy protest outside we filled the public gallery. Councillors outlined their plans to close travel information centres, cut cleaning at interchanges and scrap paper bus timetables. Bus shelters are to be cleaned only once every three months. In all 40 jobs are to go.

A freedom rider addressed the meeting, pointing out the authority has £12 million in its reserves. This is more than enough to continue the current level of service and reinstate travel concessions.


Labour chair Sir Steve Houghton replied that these reserves need to last several years. Obviously he’s not confident an incoming Labour government will reverse the cuts. Neither are we – but we’re fighting austerity, not accepting it. It seems he’s OK with filthy interchanges and even more unemployment.

Houghton argued he could have decided to cut all pensioners’ and disabled people’s concessions but didn’t. Yes – if we’d not kept up our campaign, what concessions we won back last June would have been at risk again. But this is not enough: we want all our concessions back!

We’re not letting Northern Rail off the hook either. They wanted £239,000 to provide free rail travel for pensioners – yet already get £780 million in public subsidy! Freedom riders have been out with RMT members campaigning against fare rises.

Dozens of protesters took their latest ‘freedom ride’ – travelling without paying – on 8 December.