A NEW operator could be about to take over the vital Ingleton to Skipton route previously operated by defunct Pennine buses.

Since May 16, the previously hourly service, stopping at Settle, Long Preston and Gargrave, has been operated on a reduced scale by North Yorkshire County Council with just a 16-seater minibus.

In just under two weeks, it is feared that people are at risk of losing their jobs because of not being able to get to work on time, older people, not able to access the reduced service, are becoming worryingly isolated, and charity shops are suffering because volunteers can't reach them.

But advanced talks were under way this week for Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire - which already runs the Sunday and bank holidays DalesBus service - to take on the service.

If everything goes to plan, the family-run business will run a two hourly service including early morning and evening services for people needing to get to work, for an initial three-month trial period.

Matthew Sutton, manager of Kirkby Lonsdale coaches, confirmed talks were ongoing with the council and he hoped for a successful outcome.

"We would love the work and want to help the people out in North Yorkshire, but it has to be sustainable, I am not prepared to ruin the business," he said.

The company has put together a business plan and a predicted timetable operating Monday to Saturday.

The service would run from Kirkby Lonsdale via Ingleton and Settle to Skipton using two 33 seater buses, with the possibility of a 42-seater low floor, fully accessible bus being introduced in mid-July. Passengers would be able to buy tickets for the whole journey, but there would be a change of service number at Settle to meet legal requirements.

Colin Speakman, a vice president of The Dales Society and a member of Friends of DalesBuses, said it was vital that the Ingleton to Skipton service - estimated to cost around £35,000 per year - was restored as soon as possible.

"Every day that this continues, people are at risk of losing their jobs because they can't get to work, it is affecting the lives and well being of the whole community," he said.

Mr Speakman suggested that it could mean the council minibuses being used to take on the Skipton town centre to Greatwood estate service.

County councillor Robert Heseltine, chairman of a council review group for public transport, said it was exactly the kind of innovation the group wanted to see.

"This is exactly what we are looking for and hope we can put some public money into it," he said.

Support has also been given by Skipton MP Julian Smith in a letter to North Yorkshire.

"County run replacement services are clearly better than nothing, but I am very concerned that unless a fuller timetable is revived and a further effort made to bring in a commercial operator, then lives will be disrupted even further and the long term viability of these routes will be so reduced, as people make alternative arrangements, that potential operators will not see sufficient business to make it worthwhile them bidding for these routes," he said.

And he urged the council to carefully consider proposals put forward by Kirkby Lonsdale coaches.

"I would like to discuss with the council why proposals like these cannot be taken up and, if there are financial gaps, how these gaps may be bridged and how I can help."

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council confirmed it was in talks with the coach company.