West Midlands council leaders are determined to defy massive public opposition to congestion charging by pressing ahead with controversial plans for road pricing experiments.
Details of pilot schemes across the conurbation, which could include projects in Birmingham, will be published in the summer and form part of a bid to the Government's #1.4 billion transport innovation fund.
Experts behind the push for road pricing insisted last night that a decision by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander to back a small-scale congestion charging scheme in Shrewsbury would not stand in the way of larger regional projects.
The disclosure that leaders of the seven West Midlands councils and the passenger transport authority Centro are still actively considering road pricing came hours before the closure of an anti-congestion charging petition on the Downing Street website, which attracted a record 1.6 million signatures.
A public consultation period into the West Midlands' green paper Gridlock or Growth ended last month.
The paper concluded that a form of distance-based road pricing, where motorists would be charged up to #5 a day to travel at peak times, could cut congestion by 23 per cent.
Failure to act now would lead to growing congestion on main roads and motorways and reduce the region's economic competitiveness, according to the paper.
London-based Fishburn Hedges, a transportation consultancy retained by the councils and Centro, said a number of road pricing options were still under discussion with a view to submitting a bid to the TIF. A decision is expected to be taken by July, when the first TIF bidding round ends.
If a West Midlands bid was approved, the region would expect to receive substantial funding from the TIF to help boost public transport.
Fishburn Hedges spokesman Peter Fitch said: "We are in the process of looking through the public consultation response to Gridlock or Growth. Essentially, the final decision is still there to be made for the West Midlands."
Mr Fitch said the Government recognised that large-scale road pricing schemes covering cities such as Birmingham or Manchester would take longer to implement. However, it was important to understand that approval for a small-scale scheme at Shrewsbury would not rule out region-wide projects.
"In terms of a potential Government decision making process, one does not rule out the other," Mr Fitch added.
Reaching a unanimous decision is likely to be a tricky process for the seven councils.
Conservative-led Coventry City Council is known to be apprehensive about public opposition to road pricing.
However, other councils, including Birmingham, point out that the chances of the West Midlands receiving substantial additional funding for buses, trains, trams and roads rests on a successful bid to the TIF.
Passenger transport authorities have begun to raise concerns about being "blackmailed" by the Government, with transport ministers making it clear that any application to the TIF must be accompanied by proposals for road pricing.
Gary Clarke, chairman of Centro, said: "The Government is trying to attach strings to this money. We were told that if we didn't put road pricing in our bid, it wouldn't help our case."
Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip said it was wrong to conclude that the West Midlands had missed out funding simply because the Government was minded to approve a smaller road pricing experiment in Shrewsbury, beginning in 2010.
Mr Inskip said Centro would publish plans for road pricing shortly.
"Doing nothing about the West Midlands' #2.2 billion congestion problem is not an option," Mr Inskip added.