Birmingham has been urged to impose workplace car park charges after the Government finally gave up on efforts to introduce congestion charging across Britain.
Long-running attempts to convince major cities to introduce road pricing have been abandoned, in a low-key statement issued to the House of Commons.
But a report by the Department for Transport said that congestion was still costing businesses billions of pounds each year in major conurbations such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.
And it warned that without road pricing, councils would need to impose alternative solutions to cut down on car use, including a tax on workplace car parks. It would mean staff driving to work would be forced to pay for the privilege of parking their car, even in company car parks.
The Government announced plans to introduce road pricing in cities outside London six years ago, and offered councils extra funding of up to £2 billion for public transport if they went along with the scheme.
West Midlands councils drew up plans to impose London-style cordons around Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, with motorists paying £5 a day to enter the cities, but got cold feet and announced in 2008 that they would not introduce road pricing.
Authorities in Greater Manchester did back charging plans - but their proposal was thrown out by local residents when it was put to them in a referendum.
In total, just £40 million of the £2 billion was ever spent.
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan has now announced that the fund, called the Transport Innovation Fund, is being scrapped. It will be replaced by a new pot of money called the Urban Challenge Fund, which will be available to help big city councils cut traffic congestion.
Crucially, the fund will no longer be linked to the introduction of road charging. Councils can still voluntarily introduce road pricing, but the Government has broken the link between imposing charges and receiving Treasury funding.
However, authorities applying for the cash will still be expected to show they are willing to introduce “demand management measures” designed to discourage commuters from driving. Details are set out in a Department for Transport report called The Future of Urban Transport, which warns that urban congestion is costing the British economy £12 billion a year.
It sets out a range of options, including “increasing the private costs of car use, either by central taxation or through local measures such as road pricing or parking charges”.
Other possible options include “restricting traffic through regulation” and “better management of the existing road network to increase its capacity, for example through parking restrictions or more efficient signal timings.”