The Government might be prepared to pay people not to use cars at peak times to reduce congestion on West Midlands roads, the leader of Birmingham's professional services sector suggested last night.
Simon Murphy, chief executive of Birmingham Forward, said financial incentives not to drive to work in rush hours could be one of several innovative ways of ending gridlock.
Mr Murphy said his organisation, representing 250 firms and 80,000 employees, was behind the West Midlands' bid for a £1 million feasibility study into road pricing and other methods of tackling congestion.
However, he stressed Birmingham Forward would not contemplate a London-style congestion charge for city centre vehicles. He backed city council transportation cabinet member Len Gregory, who told The Birmingham Post there were no circumstances under which a congestion charge would be tolerated.
Mr Murphy said: "Birmingham Forward very much agree with Coun Gregory's comments. This has never been a London-style congestion charge issue. What we need for Birmingham and the West Midlands is a demand management solution. What we will have is a system based on the interests and needs of the West Midlands conurbation and managing demand at peak times on the main roads. It will be something very different."
Mr Murphy would not be drawn on the likelihood motorists would only be persuaded in large numbers to leave their cars through financial penalties. He pointed out the Government has said it is only prepared to approve road pricing schemes if they are cost-neutral.
Drivers willing to use cars at off-peak times might enjoy lower insurance because there would be less likelihood of accidents, he claimed.
Mr Murphy said: "Certain parts of the media have been obsessed with the idea road pricing will automatically be the same as you have in London. There are a variety of potential solutions that do not involve crossing a line at certain times and paying a fee. Being paid not to use the road is one idea. The crucial thing is the Government has asked regions to come forward with innovative solutions to the problems we face over ten to 15 years. Business organisations will be working very closely with the seven councils."
He said there was unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution for the West Midlands.
"You have a large professional services centre in Birmingham and a large manufacturing base in the Black Country where the usage of roads is very different," he added. His comments hint at difficulties faced by the West Midlands councils taking forward a cross-party position on road pricing.
A briefing paper will be considered by leaders of the West Midlands councils tomorrow.