Lord Whitty, a transport minister, said on Saturday that the government was committed to giving local authorities legal powers to impose charges on workplace parking as well as charging motorists for entering congested town centres. Ministers are still discussing whether to include the powers in the Bill needed to set up a new London mayor and city-wide authority for the capital.
Lord Whitty confirmed the government will publish a consultation paper on the matter soon. At a Labour conference meeting last week, he suggested that any new primary legislation could be drawn broadly so that charges could be extended in the future to include parking at large superstores and leisure complexes.
A recent study in Bristol found that reducing private, non-residential parking by 12.5% could cut peak-hour city traffic between seven and 10%.
The card scheme, based on the zone system used on public transport, is favoured by the government as being simple and cheap. Ministers want London to be the first city to introduce road pricing, raising more than£200m a year to improve public transport.
Motorists would have to display a travel card on their windscreens to travel across zones during office hours. Those without the permit could be fined by traffic wardens. The card would also be valid for public transport, encouraging commuters to combine car use with buses and the Underground. Ministers back the scheme also because it does not limit motorists' freedom to drive.
Professor David Begg, who is devising an electronic road pricing scheme for Edinburgh, says London can lead the way on charging. He explained: 'To be successful, the mayor has to make a difference fast, and that means raising money. Road pricing is the best way'.