Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (SCRCA) Transport Committee has reiterated that decisions made earlier this year over concessionary travel arrangements for older and disabled people will not be changing.
Cllr Bill Mordue, Chairman of the Transport Committee, said that cuts to budgets meant that more generous concessionary terms, which were previously available, are simply no longer affordable, due to current and anticipated budget cuts.
He was speaking following a meeting between the Barnsley Retirees Action Group (BRAG), South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) and Northern Rail to discuss concessionary fares.
Representatives of BRAG requested the meeting with SYPTE and Northern today (Tuesday 9 September) to call for free rail travel to be restored to senior pass holders in South Yorkshire and into West Yorkshire. Holders of disabled travel passes, and where eligible their carers, are entitled to free rail travel in South Yorkshire, but senior pass holders have to pay half fare or more if travelling cross-boundary.
BRAG and their supporters have been holding a series of demonstrations over past months and, in some instances, have travelled unlawfully on trains without a valid ticket. The meeting today was organised to discuss the ongoing protests.
Cllr Bill Mordue said: “We understand that some people are upset that the concessionary travel scheme had to be changed and that senior pass holders now have to pay half rail fare. But the protesters also have to understand that this was done reluctantly because there isn’t enough money to fund a free scheme anymore.
“The protests are disruptive, they cost the taxpayers’ money to manage and some people have been breaking the law by travelling without a valid ticket. We have met the protestors before, we’ve listened to them again today, and they’ve spoken at our Transport Committee meetings. But our message is firm – we simply can’t afford the free rail fare anymore. This has been made clear to the protesters, who initially said they would welcome a scheme where users contributed to the cost of travel.”
Ahead of expected further budget cuts to public transport funding next year, SYPTE is currently undertaking a public consultation into how people access public transport information and support services. The Executive says it is not currently working on any plans to change the current concessionary travel offer or to cut bus services funded by SYPTE.
The only genuine suggestion from BRAG was a senior discount card, and this will be looked at by Northern Rail. However, the existing Senior Railcard already offers pensioners 1/3 off rail travel.
Enhancements to the region’s concessionary travel scheme for disabled and older people took place in June, following customer feedback about reductions made in March 2014 as a result of Government funding cuts to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive budget.