Councils have called for a “total overhaul” of the way bus services are funded.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, claimed local authorities are unable to do much more under the current system to support the network.
It follows a call from Lancashire’s transport chief, Coun John Fillis, for the government to establish a special fund to protect rural buses. He said the County Council spend £7million a year supporting around 100 rural routes which don’t make enough from passenger fares to cover their costs, but as austerity cuts deepen, this is no longer sustainable.
The LGA has issued a report urging the Government to fund the concessionary fares in full in its spending review, which concludes in November.
The scheme - which includes free off-peak travel for the elderly and disabled - has had its Government funding cut by 27 per cent over the past five years. The LGA said this has forced councils to subsidise concessionary fares at the expense of other services such as school transport for over 16s and community support.
LGA transport spokesman, Peter Box, said: “Councils are doing everything they can to support bus users, but are fast reaching a tipping point. There are limited opportunities to make further savings. Reductions in funding for concessionary bus fares continue to impact on many services for the elderly, disabled and commuters, for whom bus routes are a lifeline.
“With up to 500 bus routes being reduced, altered or stopped altogether every year, this funding shortfall needs to be addressed urgently.”
He added: “What is needed is a total overhaul of the way buses are run and funded as part of the spending review to protect cherished bus services.”