The new freedom riders: Yorkshire pensioners continue crusade to win back free local rail travel

 

“Who wants to stage a freedom ride?” demands George Arthur, a retired primary school teacher into his loud hailer, causing a forest of hands and walking sticks to be raised skywards. Within moments there's a tense stand-off.

Cries of “we shall not be stopped” and “shame on you” are hurled at the anxious-looking group of around a dozen police, rail officials and private security guards armed with body cameras, nervously blocking the entrance to Barnsley train station.

Five months into an extraordinary protest, which shows little signs of abating, up to 90 angry pensioners and disabled people gathered in the former mining town again today demanding their right to free local rail travel.

In March, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive announced it was to withdraw the benefit for both groups – around 250,000 people - in a bid to make up a £243,000 budget shortfall in central Government funding.

Since then they have been forced into a £150,000 climbdown, reinstating the concession for disabled passengers and introducing half fares for the elderly after local protest groups staged a series of freedom rides - a tactic made famous by America’s civil rights campaigners - in which they refused to pay for tickets on disputed routes.

With older travellers in London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside are still in receipt of both free rail and bus travel, the pensioners of South Yorkshire – the home of Arthur Scargill - are refusing to let the matter lie, and their protest is drawing the attention of pensioner action groups across the country.

Steve Lonsdale, 63, a retired turner who was involved in the miners’ strikes of 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1984 is among those who feel they are paying the price for a financial crisis that was not of their making.

“Of course we are angry. We want to keep what we have won and fought for in the past. They are using austerity to justify taking everything away that our grandparents and parents have won: free education, the NHS, benefits for when people are out of work,” he said.

Former steelworker Alan Darlow, 60, a former steelworker, recalls how his brother was chased by police for half a mile at the notorious Battle of Orgreave during the miners’ strike.

“I am here for old age pensioners who can’t get here. There are a lot of people who support us but who can’t physically be here. We are fighting for a just cause – we are not here to cause any trouble,” he adds.  

Relations between the Freedom Riders and the authorities – most notably Serco-owned Northern Rail – were damaged in an incident last month when protesters were injured and two people arrested in scuffles during a demonstration at Sheffield railway station.

Campaigners say they were accused of acting like “rabid dogs” and are demanding video evidence to support claims that a member of railway staff was hurt in the fracas. None has been forthcoming.

A reporter from the Sheffield Star had their camera seized by police using anti-terrorism powers whilst two men, both in their 60s, are currently awaiting a five-day trial accused of failing to buy the £2 ticket.

Security arrangements for the protests meanwhile are claimed to be costing £5,000 a time.

Fran Postlethwaite, 62, a retired teacher, said more than 5,000 supporters have signed petitions and an open letter demanding a change in policy as well as backing on social media.

“They have tried to make out we are selfish but it is not true,” she said. “What shocked me in the early days was I met people who used to travel to Meadowhall [shopping centre] on the first train and stay there all day because it is warm. Going there and having a cup of coffee was cheaper than having the heating on,” she added.  Campaigners say free travel reduces loneliness and depression and ends up saving the NHS money.

Partially sighted Carol Green, 65, who has received an MBE for her services to the blind in Barnsley, is also among the supporters. “I am very proud to be part of this,” she said, as she helped a breakaway group of disabled passengers gain access to a locked platform entrance.

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive said there were no plans to change the present policy.

Northern Rail which operates the axed routes, said it understood the frustration of older travellers. “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 journey they intend to make,” a spokeswoman said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all