Fewer people are using buses in all English regions apart from London, spending watchdogs say.
Bus services in London are privatised but tightly regulated
Numbers fell by an average 7% in regions apart from the capital in 2004-5, the National Audit Office and Audit Commission said in a report.
National targets are unlikely to be met in 2011, and in 2010 they will only be met because of London, they said.
The watchdogs urged stronger local leadership on buses. Ministers say they aim to build on London's success.
The report said the 2010 12% growth target probably would be met - but mainly because of a 32% growth in London, which last year accounted for 44% of all bus journeys in England.
Public Accounts Committee chairman Edward Leigh put London's success down to "a combination of increased central investment and Transport for London's commitment to improving bus services".
Buses are privatised in London, but remain regulated - unlike services in other cities and regions which were deregulated in the late 1980s.
The report suggests the deregulated market could work better.
Improving information on bus service reliability and the access which independent Transport Commissioners have to passenger complaints could help, it says.
The report also suggests local authorities could save more by administering concessionary fares better, and improving the way they procure subsidised bus services.
They could make savings by working together when they tendered for services and purchased bus related infrastructure, it adds.
National Audit Office head Sir John Bourn said: "If growth in all the regions is to be achieved, strong leadership from the Department for Transport will be essential, to build on its policies and encourage local transport authorities and operators to bring about the concerted action needed."
James Strachan, chairman of the Audit Commission which co-authored the report, said buses were an "important lifeline" for many people.
"Success depends on many organisations working efficiently together.
"However, what stands out is that where there is strong local leadership to increase the use of buses, as in London, the difference is real and the public notices it."
The Department for Transport said it was encouraging partnership between local authorities and bus operators to deliver improved services.
"Where this happens, significant increases in bus patronage can be delivered.
"For example, Brighton and Hove, and York, have seen patronage increases of around 12% and 40% respectively since 2000/01," a department spokesman said.