Transport Secretary Alistair Darling met the seven West Midlands district leaders in Birmingham yesterday, fuelling speculation that the area is his first choice to pilot a satellite-based road pricing scheme.
Rumours have been rife among local sources that the Department for Transport is keen on piloting the payasyou drive scheme in the region, and the district leaders have already signalled their willingness to discuss the matter.
Last week Mr Darling announced £200 million a year from the new annual Transport Innovation Fund would be offered to the pilot area - adding extra significance to yesterday's meeting.
A spokesman for the district leaders said: "Leaders of the West Midlands metropolitan authorities and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority met Alistair Darling to discuss the longterm vision for transport in the conurbation.
"This is part of an ongoing dialogue in the context of the conurbation's joint Local Transport Plan."
But a spokesman for the DfT admitted that road pricing came up during the meeting.
He said: "The Transport Secretary did have a broad discussion with the district leaders about his desire to see congestion cut in the West Midlands in order to help the local economy."
Meanwhile, a West Midlands MEP has accused Mr Darling of attempting to " manipulate" local authorities into shouldering the political fallout for road pricing through the TIF funding.
Philip Bradbourn, Conservative transport spokesman in the European Parliament, decried the move to " manipulate" transport funding to help the Government impose a satellite-based pay-as-you-drive scheme on local councils.
It is understood that future transport projects, such as funding for extra light-rail lines, could depend on the TIF investment.
Mr Bradbourn said: "The TIF was supposed to provide a mechanism for long-term transport planning and investment, but Mr Darling has hijacked it in a clumsy attempt to force through his pet scheme to price drivers off the roads."
He added that the Government had already tried to "bully" Birmingham City Council on transport matters, such as the suspension of bus lanes and a preference for underground rather than surface-level trams."
But a DfT spokesman told The Birmingham Post: "What Mr Bradbourn is saying is not true. We have said that £200 million of the TIF fund will go to the area piloting road pricing and at the start that is quite a big chunk of the overall fund.
"But the TIF will increase to £2 billion in a few years and the slice for road pricing will be just ten per cent."