West Midland buses are unreliable, dirty and poorly maintained, according to the body responsible for promoting public transport in the region.
Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, issued the damning verdict in evidence it submitted to a House of Commons inquiry.
It said bus operators offered a "poor quality" service and called for radical reforms giving local councils far more control over them.
Birmingham and the surrounding region should have the same type of bus service as London, Centro said.
Centro is funded by the West Midland Passenger Transport Authority, which includes seven local councils.
It was set up to encourage more commuters to stop driving and use public transport instead.
But officials claimed they faced an uphill battle because of the poor quality of bus services, at a hearing of the Transport Select Committee.
A document prepared jointly by Centro and the passenger authority was submitted by Robert Smith, Centro Services Director.
It warned: "Operators in the Centre area lack attention to detail resulting in poor quality.
"Travel West Midlands, unlike some other operators, is good at maintaining its fleet to legal standards but the external presentation and internal cleanliness of even the newer vehicles is often very poor."
Sometimes the buses displayed the wrong information about where they are going, Centro said.
It added: "There is evidence . . . that some operators are not maintaining their buses to legal standards. In Birmingham, Britain's second city, there are still buses operating along trunk routes that are over 20 years old."
The evidence continued: "Initiatives by operators have been limited and their focus has been to maintain profits rather than grow the market."
Bus companies were sending more buses than they needed on the most profitable routes - to stop competitors stealing passengers - instead of using them to open new routes, Centro said.
Customer numbers were in long term decline in the region, and bus companies changed their services too often, confusing customers, the document said.
Buses in the West Midlands should be regulated like those in London, Centro said.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone puts bus routes out to tender, so that operators bid to supply a service to the city - which may include running loss-making services as well as profitable services, and guaranteeing minimum standards.
In most other parts of the country, including the West Midlands, bus companies simply run routes they believe will be most profitable.
The allegations were fiercely denied by Travel West Midlands, the region's largest bus company.
A spokeswoman for National Express, the bus operator's parent company, said the current arrangements could deliver improvements to services.
She said: "We have put significant investment in to Travel West Midlands.
"We have replaced the entire fleet with new low-floor easy-access buses."
The Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG) yesterday called on Government to provide an extra £4 billion a year for transport in cities such as Birmingham. In London, public expenditure on transport was £631 per head. In the West Midlands, it was £248.