The number of bus services in the UK has halved since 2011, according to the Labour Party.
The figures, which are based on annual reports by traffic commissioners, show there were 8,781 bus services in the year to March 2023, compared to 17,394 in 2011.
Almost 2,000 routes were cut since the 2021/22 period alone, the data suggest.
However, the government branded the opposition‘s criticism as “misleading” – pointing out an investment since 2020 of £3.5bn into bus services.
The Department for Transport said factors such as operators merging and traffic commissioners not managing the registration of buses in some regions had played a part in the figures highlighted by the opposition.
Politics latest: Could migrants be sent to isolated volcanic island?
According to Labour, the West Midlands was the hardest region – having lost more than two-thirds of its routes.
Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: “The staggering decline in local bus services under this government is nothing short of vandalism against our communities.
“Millions of people rely on these essential services, but they are being left without a voice as routes are cut back year after year.
“Labour’s plans will put passengers first by allowing communities to take back control over their bus services.”
In response, a DfT spokesperson said: “It’s misleading to equate these figures directly with changes in the number of bus routes, when the government has invested £3.5bn since 2020 to back our buses.
“Our recent £500mn boost is capping fares until the end of November 2024 and protecting routes into 2025, helping people save money on travel and improving transport connections to grow the economy.”
Transport Minister Richard Holden said: “This is just another cynical attempt by Labour to distract the British people from their appalling record on public transport.
“In Labour-run London, Sadiq Khan has increased bus fares by almost 6% and under the last Labour government bus fares rose more quickly than under the Conservatives, increasing costs for hardworking families.
“While Labour’s fare hikes are discouraging bus use, the Conservatives are backing bus users by capping fares at £2 on over 5,000 bus routes and delivering record investment into our bus sector, keeping prices down as we halve inflation and grow the economy.”
Labour wants to devolve more powers to choose routes and reduce fares to local authorities – powers currently only wielded by metro mayors.
They also want to end the ban on publicly-owned bus companies being started.
The government announced an extra £300m for buses earlier this year – but this was £90m short of what the Confederation of Passenger Transport said was needed over the next 18 months.
Some £2bn was provided to the industry to help it recover from the pandemic.