Scarlet Band to close after 102 years

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Councillors have pledged to ‘explore all the options’ following news that a bus service in Darlington will cease to run after the owner of operator Scarlet Band decided to close the business. It will close on Saturday 29 October.

Scarlet Band has operated the hourly ‘Pink Bus’ service 16 for almost a decade as a council-supported service, along with a number of services in neighbouring Durham. Following the announcement, Darlington council officers said they were working to look at all the options for the affected area. Members of Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet had agreed as recently as September to continue the grant funding, provided by the Government’s devolved Bus Service Operators Grant and Bus Recovery Grant, which would have supported service 16 for a further two years.

The owner of Scarlet Band said the decision to close was not made lightly but that the company was struggling to maintain its fleet due to supply chain issues and the departure of a number of driving and engineering staff – reflecting the situation felt by many bus operators across the UK following the impact of lockdowns.

Darlington Councillor and cabinet member for local services Andy Keir said: “The closure of Scarlet Band is a terrible shame as it has been a key supporter of services and a highly regarded operator in Darlington for almost a decade. We are now exploring all options available to us and we will keep service users updated as much as possible in the coming weeks.

“Bus services have been badly impacted across the board by the restrictions placed on them during Covid-19, as well as the change in working patterns and the loss of drivers from the industry. We will continue to support and challenge bus operators in Darlington to ensure they are providing the best service possible to the passengers who rely on them.”

The company takes its unusual name from the initials of original owner Sidney Blenkinsop. Established in 1921 by Sidney, the company was originally a taxi operator but quickly moved into the commercial sector, running its first buses in 1925. After operating for over fifty years, ownership of Scarlet Band transferred to the founder’s son, Arthur Blenkinsop, and during the 1980s and 1990s the company built up a strong European coaching profile.

In the 2000s it moved back into local bus services and won the Durham park & ride contract in 2005. In July 2007, the company was bought by Graeme Torrance. Graeme expanded the business to employ 61 staff and operate 41 vehicles, providing services to Darlington Borough Council and Durham County Council as well as operating a service to East Durham Hospital on behalf of the NHS.

A post online said that vehicles including Optare Solos and Versas, plus ADL Enviro200s, had been placed up for sale “priced for enthusiasts to purchase a vehicle for preservation from a company with 120 [sic] years of history” and that they were priced “for preservation not operators” with some vehicles “available costing three figures.”