Legislation in the session beginning this autumn could mean pilot charging schemes to start as early as 2000. Three cities have already been chosen for trials starting next year. Edinburgh, Leicester and Bristol will be able to charge motorists£6 to drive in their centres.
Advisers had previously suggested that laws enabling road charging were unlikely to be introduced until at least 2000 but Mr Prescott is said to be keen to bring the date forward.
He is believed to be impressed by early results from a£3.5m trial government project in Leicester, which suggests that a£3 charge could deter motorists from driving into the city centre if reliable alternative transport is available.