CAMPAIGNERS who have long called on public transport leaders to introduce an annual fee for pensioners to claim free rail travel across Barnsley have had the brakes slammed on by county bosses.
Since the removal of free train travel for senior passholders in 2014, there has been a continued campaign - spearheaded by the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders - calling for its reinstatement.
Barnsley-based George Arthur and Tony Nuttall, both in their 60s at the time, were arrested and charged with obstruction and fare evasion after a protest.
More recently, a scheme where passholders paid a set fee for an annual pass had been suggested as a cost-neutral alternative - but this has now been ruled out due to costs following a South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) meeting.
A report said: “Earlier in the year SYMCA undertook market research with eligible residents to explore their appetite for an annual pass and the additional number of trips this would generate.
“The results of this work indicated that the scheme could cost us around £2.87m per year based on a £10 price.
“Should such a scheme be implemented, with Northern as the principal operator, it would require SYMCA to reimburse any fares that they would have received from concessionary journeys.
“Members were supportive of such a scheme in principle but, given the financial risks involved, did not feel that they could commit to it at this stage.
“It was therefore decided to defer the item for six months, when it could be reviewed to determine whether a scheme was financially viable.
“In the meantime, work on a cost-neutral pass will continue and various options - such as a capped version of the scheme - will be explored.”
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard said he was willing to meet with campaigners.
He said: “I want our public transport network to be absolutely fit for purpose, accessible and affordable for everybody.
“The combined authority has previously considered the reinstatement of the free rail travel for elderly concession pass holders and at that time concluded that is unaffordable in the current financial climate.”
Local pensioners - including train users Luisa Fletcher, Keith Hopkins, Margaret McHale and Hazel Mayer - contacted the Chronicle to condemn the decision.
They said: “The committee have let down and greatly disappointed the elderly once more.
“The concession is currently implemented in other areas of the country which facilitates a cheaper or free rail travel in the region for the elderly, with very little cost on the public purse, or none at all.
“But the most painful thing is to see the lack of a positive attitude, as well as the lack of optimism towards the potential benefits of the scheme for the elderly.
“We feel that those who should be on the side of those who are in need, have failed them and continue to fail them. No wonder why Barnsley people, according to recent statistics in mental health, have one of the highest rates of depression.
“Poverty, loneliness, physical and mental illness, and now the cost-of-living crisis have hit pensioners hard in a country with the worst state pension in Europe.
“The concession would be a way to alleviate some of these avoidable situations - not restoring the concession in our region, will simply add more to the misery of poverty and ill-health.
“Yes, we are emotive and passionate, and why not? This matters to us, and we put our soul and mind into something that we think is fair, something that it could give some joy to those people who are facing isolation, lack of appropriate health care and poverty.
“They have worked very hard all their lives - now it’s time to give something back to them.”