'Save buses' campaign launched to fight council cuts
More than two-thirds of councils in England are planning major cuts to their bus budgets, it is claimed.
According to the Campaign for Better Transport, which is launching the Save our Buses campaign, some councils intend to end all subsidised services.
The Local Government Association also warned many bus routes would disappear as a result of government cutbacks.
But the government said nearly 80% of services outside London were commercially run and so not affected.
As part of the Save our Buses campaign, data was collected from every local authority in England.
It found 13 county councils were planning cutbacks of more than £1m, including Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon.
Many rural, hospital, evening and weekend bus services were at risk.
The Local Government Association said bus routes would disappear as a result of government cuts to council budgets, and warned changes to the way concessionary travel is funded would also see services scaled back.
County councils will take over responsibility this year for funding concessionary travel.
This will mean a cut in funding earmarked for other services, and concessionary travel will be scaled back to off-peak hours in order for county councils to be able to meet their statutory duty, the LGA added.
Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport's chief executive, said the cuts to bus services would hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.
"We believe any short-term savings will be outweighed by the long-term cost of a vastly depleted bus network.
"These unprecedented cuts will be especially disastrous for people on low incomes and could effectively mean the death of rural bus services.
"Politicians must consider the social, economic and environmental consequences of failing to protect our bus services."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If the government really wants people to get off welfare and into work they are going to need transport for it."
'Reaching for axe'
Peter Box, chairman of the LGA's economy and transport board, said: "Councils support the free bus scheme, but it has been under-funded since its introduction.
"We have always argued that it should not be the local taxpayer and council services that suffer because central funding is not keeping up with demand for the free bus pass."
However, local and regional transport minister Norman Baker argued that while he accepted the funding settlement was "challenging", most bus services would not be affected.
"Nearly 80% of bus services outside London are commercially run so don't rely on direct funding from councils. There has been no cut in the financial support we provide for these services this year," he said.
"I accept that the funding settlement for local authorities from DCLG is challenging. It's good to see some councils are approaching this imaginatively, finding savings in procurement and council officers' salaries. However, some are just reaching for the axe."