A reduction in bus journeys has led to fears over the impact of passengers switching from public transport to cars due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Department for Transport (DfT) figures show the number of bus passenger journeys in England fell by 238 million in the year ending March 31.
The total of 4.07 billion was a 5.5% reduction on the previous 12 months.
Campaign for Better Transport spokeswoman Alice Ridley urged the Government to “protect and improve bus services, which are crucial to a sustainable, fair recovery”.
She went on: “Travelling by public transport must be affordable and convenient to avoid car journeys escalating and non-drivers being excluded.”
David Renard, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), said bus passenger numbers and services have been “on a declining trend for some time” but Covid-19 has had “a devastating impact”.
He went on: “We need a complete reset as to how we provide bus services in future, which includes the level of investment and subsidy required to meet the country’s net-zero commitment and the Government’s ambition to make public transport and active travel the natural first choice for daily activities.”
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus industry, said: “This drop in passenger numbers reflects that, in the weeks before lockdown, we had already begun to see people deciding to travel less as a result of Covid-19.
“Following the stay-at-home message we also saw bus passenger numbers drop to 10% of normal in a matter of days.”
Mr Vidler urged the Government to ensure “we don’t lock in the increase in car use we have seen during the pandemic”.
He wants measures introduced to “focus on getting people back on to the bus”.
These include cutting bus journey times and giving local authorities and operators “the tools to deliver the services passengers need”.
Bus fares increased by 2.5% in the year to March 31.
This is steeper than the Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation, which was 1.5%.
Separate DfT figures show bus use in Britain excluding London is at 45% of pre-pandemic levels, while car use has returned to 83%.
English councils claim they are being forced to “prop up” private bus operators.
The LGA said local authorities have been ordered by the Government to maintain payments to reimburse firms for concessionary travel at pre-Covid-19 levels, despite the drop in journey numbers.