It was understandable that Centro, the West Midlands Public Transport Authority, should hire a national public relations agency when deciding how to sell congestion charging to motorists and businesses. But the decision to appoint spin doctors a couple of years ago, before publication by the region's councils of the Gridlock or Growth report, was never likely to overcome widespread cynicism about the Government's role in attempting to force local authorities to introduce road pricing.
Leaders of the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils will finally conclude tomorrow that the time is not yet right to introduce congestion charging and other methods of traffic demand management. There are a number of reasons why this conclusion has been reached, but two stand out as over-whelming.
The first is the absence of public support for charging motorists to enter towns and cities at peak times without first putting into place widespread improvements to the region's sub-standard public transport system. Drivers, who council leaders should always remember are also voters, are never likely willingly to pay a levy, and most certainly will not want to do so until it becomes feasible to travel easily and cheaply by train, tram or bus.
The second reason for tomorrow's decision is the impact road pricing would almost certainly have on the business sector and the regional economy. Extensive research and computer modelling undertaken by Centro failed to come up with any reassurance that congestion charging would not harm the West Midlands' competitiveness. Simply put, the benefits of faster journey times on the roads and motorways would be more than swallowed up by the financial costs imposed on motorists and businesses with a consequent impact on profits and jobs.
Even the Government has now cooled on road pricing, taking the view perhaps that this is not the right time to risk heaping further unpopularity on Gordon Brown and his ministers. A clear opportunity exists, therefore, for the seven West Midlands councils to talk to the Transport Secretary about ways in which the region's priorities for delivering the Midland Metro and better local train and bus services might be financed.
That conversation cannot come too quickly for those who dice daily with the region's clogged roads and motorways.