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Campaign group calls for free Sheffield bus travel: Freedom Riders say that climate change demands a creative approach to public transport

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Photo by the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders.

A local transport campaign have called for Sheffield City Region to introduce fare-free bus travel.

The South Yorkshire Freedom Riders have submitted the proposal to the region's ongoing Bus Review, chaired by local MP Clive Betts. The group have shared the submission with Now Then.

"We believe that the threat of climate change demands a holistic and creative approach to public transport," say the group in their introduction. "The present system of privatisation and deregulation is not fit for dealing with the crisis we face."

The Freedom Riders were formed in 2014 to protest cuts in South Yorkshire travel concessions for pensioners and disabled people.

Let's give everyone access to towns, villages, friends, the countryside and work

Members won a reversal in the policy after repeatedly boarding trains from Barnsley to Meadowhall and refusing to pay.

In a letter to The Guardian last May, the Freedom Riders called for a return to the goal of a free-to-use bus service.

"Let's give everyone access to towns, villages, friends, the countryside and work," wrote the group's Mike Smith. "Let's give them a free-to-use bus service as was intended by a visionary authority in 1974."

Jamie Sims of ACORN Sheffield told Now Then that his union supported calls for free transport. "Access to transport is vital to allow people to participate fully in society and should be accessible to all. Free transport would also help tackle climate change."

But he said that ACORN were currently focused on re-regulating the bus network as a first step "in order to win bigger things later."

"It's not currently possible to win free transport so at the moment we are campaigning for public control, which would improve lives of people in South Yorkshire by allowing us to set the routes, fares, and ticketing as well as driving up workers' rights and environmental standards."

From 1 March, all public transport in Luxembourg will become completely free. It is the first country in the world to remove fares from its buses, trams and trains across an entire nation.

Other cities in Europe including Tallinn in Estonia and Dunkirk in France have experimented with fare-free buses.

Free transport would also help tackle climate change

In 2012, the Yorkshire Post reported that bus journeys outside London had halved since deregulation in 1986. Over the same period in the capital, where buses remain regulated, ridership doubled.

Since 2010 bus use in South Yorkshire has fallen by 18%.

Before deregulation, the county authorities had a policy of extremely cheap fares, with the eventual aim of abolishing them altogether.

In the early eighties bus fares in Sheffield were around 10p, which would be 30p in today's money.

According to the Freedom Riders, the cost of this policy was considered to be less than allowing the development of mass car use.

The Trade Union Council have also made a submission to the bus review, calling privatisation and deregulation "a terrible failure."

They would like to see the buses re-regulated, but they would also like to see them brought back into full public ownership, which is currently prohibited by national legislation.

When asked about the Freedom Riders' submission, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis told Now Then: "I'd like to thank the thousands of residents, organisations and community groups who took time to complete the Bus Review survey. We received some very detailed, constructive and innovative responses.

"The Chair of the Bus Review, Clive Betts MP and the panel are working hard to collate the findings, which will inform their recommendations to me. I look forward to receiving their report in the coming months."

Sam Gregory

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Buses in Dunkirk are now entirely free. Photo by Jeremy-Gunther-Heinz Jahnick (Wikimedia Commons).
by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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