TALKS between a possible new operator of the vital Skipton to Settle bus service are still ongoing - although a three-month trial period appears to have been ruled out.

At the same time, North Yorkshire County Council, which has been operating a "stop-gap" service since the demise last month of Pennine Buses, is planning its own improvements.

Hopes were high that Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire would take on the former 580 Pennine route.

It had wanted to carry out a three month trial before taking it on permanently - but that has been ruled out by North Yorkshire County Council.

Now, the company, which already runs the weekend and Bank Holiday DalesBus service, is considering proposals following talks with council transport bosses, which if successful would remove the need for a trial period.

"We have agreed to provide them (KIrkby Lonsdale Coach Hire) with some additional data which will help them develop a sustainable commercial service between Settle and Skipton," a council spokesman said.

"The data will include passenger information and an estimate of concessionary fare reimbursement, based on a new fare scale which they will produce. We will hold further discussions with the company once they have had a chance to analyse our data."

Last week, members of North Yorkshire County Council's Craven Area Committee called on the council to do everything possible to keep the service running.

But they were given a less than positive update on talks by head of integrated passenger transport, assistant director Richard Owens, and were told the ultimate decision lay with the council's executive - and not the area committee.

Mr Owens said a three-month trial period had been requested by the coach company, but he questioned where that would leave the council.

He acknowledged that businesses, the elderly and people trying to get to work were being badly hit by the loss of the complete service, but added a review was taking place and that improvements were being made.

He said running the stop-gap service was not costing the council anymore - as it was saving on concessionary fares payments - and indicated there could be larger buses brought in to serve the route.

Colin Speakman, vice chairman of the Friends of DalesBus, who attended the meeting between council officers and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire, said he was disappointed with the discussion.

"It's very sad that the county hasn't fully realised the economic impact of this bus service."

He claimed businesses would lose thousands of pounds over the summer because visitors would not have a comprehensive bus service.

"It will cost the people of Craven infinitely more money that the county council is allegedly saving and it raises big questions about transport and the county."

However, Skipton MP Julian Smith, who has been heavily involved in talks with the council, remains optimistic that a solution will be found.