‘Student single’ fare hike branded “deceptive” and “unfair”

See this published for Forge Press

Students have hit out at “unfairness” and “deceptive behaviour” as ‘student singles’ across Sheffield increase to £1.20 just as many leave campus and return home for the Summer.

Stagecoach and First both increased the popular student fare, valid with a Ucard and a feature of many university cities across the country, from £1 at the end of May and the price hike has now been fully introduced.

It comes amid fare increases across many popular routes in Sheffield, with First saying they are encouraging travellers to book ahead and Stagecoach blaming tough economic conditions.

Dorothy Curtis, a first year Economics student, echoed the unhappiness of some students at the way the fare hike has been introduced.

“I think it’s very bad form, to do this in such a sneaky way, without telling anyone – they could have very easily put a notice up on the buses,” she said.

First says it is encouraging passengers to use their app (picture: Geograph)

“Any other company would get hammered for that kind of deceptive behaviour.”

Alison Teal, the Green Party councillor for Nether Edge and Sharrow Ward who has been campaigning on this issue, also criticised the move.

Speaking to Forge, she said: “It now costs £3 to get from Nether Edge to town. Residents have pointed out to me that, with just two people, it’s now cheaper to get a taxi from the bus stop.

“Better public transport allows people to choose to leave their cars at home, reducing congestion for all road users while improving dangerous air pollution and road safety.”

A fare hike was also tabled last year but Dom Trendall, then SU President, negotiated for the companies to reconsider.

The fare had been £1 since 2014, when it was increased from 80p to some outcry at the time.

Holly Horton, a first year Geography student, pointed out that it is a 20% increase, and that few students carry around 20p coins, saying it is “very unfair and inconvenient for many students”.

“It also is unfair on next year’s freshers who will be trying to find their way around Sheffield for the first time,” she added.

The student single fare is useful for freshers getting to know the city (picture: Geograph)

Becky Quirke, a first year Biochemistry student, added: “I don’t think it’s fair at all considering a student single isn’t that much cheaper than a regular ticket from ranmoor to the SU anyway.”

Responding to the concerns, a First South Yorkshire spokesperson said: “On 27th May 2018 we introduced new fares across South Yorkshire to encourage more customers to purchase tickets in advance of boarding the bus; our student single ticket increased to £1.20 and we offered five tickets for £5 via our mTickets app.

“We agreed with Dom Trendall the student president in 2017 to freeze the price of our £1 single ticket, with a view to reviewing this fare in May 2017. Our student fares have been mainly frozen on our mTickets app, as the weekly ticket remains at £8 and the 5 for £5 offer equates to £1 per journey.”

John Young, commercial director at Stagecoach Yorkshire, said: “Students fares have remained very low in Sheffield for many years. The current offer remains very attractive and is one of the best travel deals anywhere in the UK.

“We face a challenging economic environment due to rising operating costs, changes in lifestyles and cuts to public sector spending on buses.

“The money from fares from all our customers is reinvested into improving services so that we can continue to offer attractive, convenient and safe travel options.”

In days, Jared O’Mara reinstated then resigns from Labour

See this published for Forge Press

Days after he was reinstated, shamed MP Jared O’Mara has resigned from the Labour Party saying he was “made unfairly to feel like a criminal” over abusive social media posts that were unearthed.

O’Mara was suspended from the party in October after multiple online posts were resurfaced, some dating back as far as 2002, and claims he verbally assaulted a woman.

In a chaotic week for the MP, he publicly apologised for the comments after he was reinstatedon Tuesday with a formal warning and mandatory training. In an interview on Wednesday with ITV Calendar he revealed he had made three suicide attempts.

Now resigning from the party, in an open letter to his constituents O’Mara said: “I didn’t commit any crimes, yet I have been made unfairly to feel like a criminal.

“Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for mistakes they make when they are young.

O’Mara won the Sheffield Hallam seat in 2017 from former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and in September was invited by Sheffield Labour Students to speak about his plans as one of the party’s freshest faces.

The success soon turned sour as online comments he had made in his early 20s were exposed by the Guido Fawkes political blog, drawing allegations of homophobia, racism and misogyny.

While Labour will lose a seat, O’Mara, 36, suggested he will continue as one of only two independent MP’s in Parliament, saying “I might be leaving Labour but I am still at your side.”

However, the Yorkshire Post revealed in January that O’Mara, paid more than £74,000 a year, was not turning up to his constituency office despite his parliamentary office saying he was continuing to work “very hard” for his Sheffield constituents during suspension.

O’Mara boldly claimed yesterday that “the Labour Party no longer shares my commitment to the true definition of equality and compassion”.

“I would be lying to those of you whom I represent, and those close to me like my parents and sister respectively, if I continued under the pretence that I feel there is a place of acceptance and empathy for me as a working class, underprivileged disabled man within the Labour Party,” he continued.

O’Mara opened up this week about three suicide attempts during his suspension (picture: Twitter)

“I have experienced little to make me feel welcome, understood and accepted during this last year.”

Liberal Democrat candidate for Sheffield Hallam Laura Gordon greeted the news with a compassionate plea.

“Jared O’Mara is clearly going through an acutely difficult time. We must always stand with those who are going through health and mental wellbeing challenges,” she said.

“What has happened in Sheffield Hallam has highlighted that all political parties have a duty of care both in how they approve candidates and their continued support for them after election.

“The MP for Sheffield Hallam has made a solemn promise to his constituents. Regardless of party label, it is important the people of Sheffield Hallam get the representation they need and deserve.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed Jared has decided to resign from Labour after we won the Sheffield Hallam seat from Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems last year.

“We wish him well for the future.”

@ewansomerville

1,000 expected on Sheffield’s streets against Trump with tequila flying on ‘Mexico Solidarity Day’

See this published for Forge Press

Around 1,000 people are expected to take to the streets of Sheffield tonight to join nationwide shows of defiance of Donald Trump’s visit to Britain, with nine bars offering free tequila to fuel the protest party.

Hundreds will assemble at 5pm outside Sheffield City Hall for the two hour rally against the US President’s three-day working visit.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid is branding the event ‘Mexico Solidarity Day’, following his declaration last week that Trump is “banned” from the city, calling him a “wasteman”.

Nine bars including The Devonshire, The York and The Common Room are offering free tequila in unity with the Mexico Day, with Amigos and Revolucion De Cuba offering complimentary nachos.

Nick Stevens from Hope Not Hate, who helped promote the rally, said: “We’ll be looking at many hundreds, possibly somewhere close to 1000 people.

“This is about Sheffield standing together against everything that Trump represents; the racism, the misogyny and the bigotry.

“With racism seemingly on something of a march in parts of Europe, as well as the UK & US, it’s vital that the rest of us, who remain proud of our anti-racist values and committed to challenging hatred in whatever form it might manifest itself, take to the streets, show our presence and make our voices heard.”

It forms part of the dozens of protests taking place in towns and cities across all four corners of the country today, including Derby, Birmingham and Cardiff. Organisers said around 100,000 people have turned out at the fiery London march today.

Although Magid himself is at the national London demonstration, many local figures are expected to attend the march including former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

Stevens added: “I would also say that, here in Sheffield, this has taken on an added significance in recent months following the disgusting, racist backlash from some small corners of society to our fantastic new Lord Mayor, Magid.

“The majority of Sheffield have not taken kindly to attack on one of our own, so, in essence, this is about showing solidarity not only with him but also with minority communities across the city.”

‘Ashamed’ MP Jared O’Mara reveals suicide attempts after suspension

See this article published for Forge Press

Reinstated Sheffield MP Jared O’Mara has told how he made three attempts on his life after he was suspended from the Labour Party for abusive online comments, as he publicly apologised this week.

Having beaten his Lib Dem rival Nick Clegg at last year’s snap general election, O’Mara was suspended for nine months after catalogue of social media comments and postings came to light, some dating back as far as 2002, drawing accusations of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

Keep on reading

Here’s everything you need to know about our new Vice-Chancellor Koen Lamberts

See this published for Forge Press here

The University has today appointed a new Vice Chancellor, as Sir Keith Burnett retires after more than a decade in the role.

Professor Koen Lamberts will take up the University’s highest office in November, having been Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of York since 2014.

Keep on reading

Busy bank holiday weekend for ambulance crews in North Devon

See this published

This was an exclusive story. After thinking of the idea and contacting SWASFT, I wrote it for local title the North Devon Gazette and produced a radio report for my hourly news bulletins on The Voice commercial radio.

Emergency ambulances were sent out around North Devon almost 360 times across the bank holiday weekend, the Gazette can reveal.

South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) figures show 358 emergency responses from Saturday, August 25 to Bank Holiday Monday – a slight fall from 370 in 2017.

Across Devon the service responded to 1,797 calls, including 1,309 in the rural areas of North, East and West Devon combined.

A SWASFT spokesman said: “We experienced a busy long weekend, despite receiving fewer calls than we anticipated.”

There were 7,733 calls throughout the South West region – stretching from Wiltshire to Cornwall.

It is a six per cent decrease on the total number of calls in the August bank holiday last year, when the figure was 8,227 and Devon-wide saw 110 more incidents needing a response.

But the average of almost 2,600 emergency calls each day this year requiring an ambulance meant it was still a hectic weekend for paramedics.

It follows SWASFT’s campaign leading up to the August bank holiday to reduce unnecessary 999 calls, encouraging the public to call NHS 111 with non-life threatening issues.

“The reduced number of calls may have been in part down to our campaign,” the trust spokesman added.

 

Exclusive: North Devon cyclists fear decline of cycling despite Tour of Britain

See this published

This was an exclusive story. I was seeing plenty of positive coverage about the Tour of Britain coming to my home town (tourism boost, getting people into cycling, a spectacle etc), but I knew there was. another, less rosy, story deep down. So I went out, spoke to local cyclists and found it. Here it is published online and on my radio bulletins.

As the final potholes are filled for the Tour of Britain’s arrival on Monday, some North Devon cyclists have warned the ‘dangerous’ cracks in North Devon’s roads are causing the decline of grassroots cycling.

Teams of maintenance workers have been seen sprinkled along the tour’s Devon Stage route over recent weeks, racing against time to fill potholes before the cyclists arrive.

Devon County Council says the event will generate £5million for the county’s economy, but the Gazette has learned of a less rosy picture among the cyclists who see North Devon’s roads at their best – and worst.

Cyclist Andy Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, said: “The roads are getting worse and worse – it’s just dangerous and to avoid the potholes you often have to swerve onto the centre line, it’s so dangerous.”

The Raptor Racing member added: “We’re finding that most roads are deteriorating badly and they’re just not getting the funding they need. You get certain places like Stibb Cross near Bideford where the actual road condition is appalling, especially going downhill.”

Marten Gallagher, a cyclist from Torrington, said: “It’s certainly a shame that we suddenly buck up our ideas to make sure the roads are nice and smooth when we’ve got a cycle race. Let’s see it happen all the year round.

“It’s definitely putting people off of cycling in the grassroots, a lot of people, my two daughters for one, say that they won’t cycle on the road anymore.”

Devon last hosted the Tour in 2016, when 250,000 people were thought to line the route, and one in five came from outside the region.

Stuart Hughes, DCC cabinet member for highways management, said the route was selected for low maintenance, or where it is already planned, so the cost has been kept low.

He said: “To put the costs into context the last Devon Stage to travel through North Devon in 2012 generated approximately £7.3m of extra spending in the county according to an independent report.

“This was a significant boost to Devon’s economy. This compares favourably to the £200,000 it costs the County Council to hold a typical Devon Stage.”

But Mr Gallagher disputed the economic case, saying: “If there’s an economic benefit to Devon from having the Tour of Britain come through it and because of that we can justify repairing the roads, then what about the economic benefit to the NHS and for the environment generally.

“In pure monetary terms for the NHS, in terms of people keeping fit and reducing our demands on that service, what about paying us back for that, in the same way.”

Featuring the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, the 174.9km Devon stage will finish on The Strand in Barnstaple before travelling around the country ahead of the grand finale in London on Sunday, September 9.

Mr Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, added: “It’s not like you want to smash every Strava segment, but actually you can’t ride at a safe certain pace because of the potholes, and as soon as it starts getting wet it’s treacherous – you don’t know how deep that pothole puddle is so you’re starting to move across the road in reduced visibility”

“The A377 is really bad, you’ve pretty much got to ride in the middle of the road. It’s a massive knock on effect with repairs if you hit a pothole.”

Several cyclists that the Gazette spoke to said the roads in France and Italy are worlds apart from North Devon.

Mr Gallagher also said the Tarka Trail was ‘bloody dangerous and not being repaired’, so he feels no choice but to use the roads from Barnstaple to Torrington to avoid the track.

“The main issue for me is that the potholes at the edge of the road, where cyclists have to cycle, don’t seem to get treated with the priority they deserve, simply because they don’t fit in with the depth requirements that are aimed at cars,” he added.