West Midlands council leaders are ready finally to reject plans for region-wide congestion charging schemes.
Eighteen months after publishing the Gridlock or Growth report, which suggested imposing a £5 levy on motorists driving into Birmingham, Coventry and parts of the Black Country at peak times, the councils are to admit it has proved impossible to secure political or business sector support for the idea.
London-style congestion charging would reduce West Midlands traffic levels by a fifth and help prevent the region's main roads and motorways from grinding to a halt by 2026, according to Gridlock or Growth.
Cash generated by the levy would have paid for better public transport, but the councils are insisting better bus, rail and tram services must be in place before road pricing can be considered.
The decision comes days after the Government indicated it was reducing pressure on local authorities to run road pricing pilots by scrapping a policy of funding major transport projects only in areas which impose road pricing.
The change of heart makes it more likely that the West Midlands will be able to press ahead with a planned £1.7 billion public transport package which includes new routes for the Midland Metro tram system in Birmingham and the Black Country along with improvements in rail and bus services.
Investment on an unprecedented scale is likely to be paid for out of a combination of Government cash and borrowing, supplementary business rates and land sales by the councils. The final nail in the congestion charging coffin will be hammered home tomorrow when leaders of the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils meet in Birmingham.
They are expected to say that conditions regarding the introduction of road pricing schemes laid down by the councils a year ago cannot be met.
The conditions were:
* any schemes must improve and not detract from the region's competitiveness;
* appropriate transport alternatives must be significantly funded and coming on stream to provide choice;
* revenues from road pricing must be reinvested in transport in the West Midlands;
* any regional road pricing schemes must fit into a national policy.
Roger Lawrence, the leader of Wolverhampton City Council, said the local authorities had been entirely consistent in their view that road pricing would not be pursued unless all of the conditions could be met.
Council leaders remained concerned about the impact on businesses and were also worried about the cost of running congestion charging pilots.
Coun Lawrence (Lab St Peter's) added: "These are very difficult hurdles to satisfy, compounded by what was already political nervousness. We always made it clear that any proposals would have to be backed by a consensus across the West Midlands."
Coventry City Council leader Ken Taylor confirmed there was no support for road pricing from any council.
Coun Taylor (Con Earlsdon) added: "We have listened to what the people are saying. No one I know in the whole of the West Midlands is keen to introduce road pricing in any shape or form."
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jerry Blackett said the reluctance to embrace road pricing did not surprise him.
Mr Blackett, who chairs the West Midlands Business Transport Group, said: "In all the modelling we have undertaken we could never prove that road pricing would add to competitiveness. It wasn't clear what the consequences long term would be if we introduced road pricing."
But Mr Blackett believes road pricing will be introduced at some point in the future and he also expects councils will try to raise cash for public transport improvements from supplementary business rates.
Coventry Council chief executive Stella Manzie, who is the lead West Midlands officer for transportation, said the councils would meet Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly shortly to discuss future investment.
Mrs Manzie said the West Midlands had undertaken an extensive study into the impact of road pricing.
She added: "In addition, impact studies covering business, consumers, journey time reliability in the freight industry and social and distributional impacts have been undertaken to understand both the effects of congestion and the broad reaction to road pricing as a measure to improve traffic conditions."