Congestion charging is back on the political agenda in the West Midlands, with council leaders likely to come forward with new proposals for road pricing early in the new year.
The region's seven metropolitan authorities accept that they are unlikely to win any money for public transport improvements from the Government's Transport Innovation Fund unless they are willing to experiment with demand management measures – effectively charging motorists more to use the roads at peak times.
The councils have requested #4 billion from the TIF over a 30-year period to deliver better train, tram and bus services – with #1.7 billion up-front to pay for a five-year priority programme of urgent measures. But the bid will not be considered by the Department for Transport until the local authorities submit firm proposals for road pricing, it emerged yesterday.
David Bull, assistant director of transportation at Birmingham City Council, said consultants appointed by the West Midlands councils were working on road pricing and congestion charging measures. Experiments could be region-wide or confined to one or two councils, he said.
Mr Bull told a scrutiny committee: "What it comes down to is how serious we are about dealing with congestion because the Government has said that is a pre-requisite for getting into the pot of funding.
"But it is absolutely clear that people won't volunteer to leave their cars behind unless there is investment in public transport and you have reliable bus and rail services."
He said it was highly unlikely the councils would get a decision about the #1.7 billion phase one measures until firm proposals for demand management were submitted.
Plans for congestion charging drawn up last year by the West Midlands councils in the Gridlock or Growth consultation paper failed to win public or political support.
In July this year council leaders submitted the #4 billion bid to the TIF, but said they required more time to look at possible road pricing measures.
Mr Bull said proposals for congestion charging would be the subject of extensive consultation among the business sector and the public.
He added: "There will be a significant amount of work over the next few months with a view to taking forward proposals that will reduce congestion. Demand management is being looked at as part of this."
He said the councils would not return to the possibility of congestion charging zones, which had been "wisely rejected". Other examples of road pricing were being considered.
Transportation scrutiny committee chairman Martin Mullaney said the councils were unlikely to win major investment from the Government unless they came forward with road pricing proposals.
"Ultimately, we are not going to get any money."