The warning was made by the House of Commons transport committee, which was also highly critical of the Government’s actions in relation to publishing its draft Local Transport Bill, which contains proposals to expand road pricing.
The Bill is considered to be a precursor to the national roll out of road pricing.
The cross-party transport committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons to examine all aspects of the Department for Transport’s work and policies, said that in the face of severe funding pressure, it was unfair to restrict the availability of funds for much-needed improvements in transport infrastructure to those authorities that would consider local road pricing schemes.
“This risks blackmailing local authorities to conduct road pricing trials on behalf of Government in advance of a possible national scheme,” it said.
The Government rejected the claim, saying that it would not support schemes unless there was robust modelling to show they would be beneficial.
The committee also said the Government’s policy to use Transport Innovation Fund projects at local level to explore the impact of road pricing is flawed.
“These projects are supposedly trials and experiments but their costs are extremely high – in the cases of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, £3 billion and £2 billion respectively, with debts lasting up to 30 years,” pointed out the committee in a report published this week.
“The failure of these projects would place a huge burden on the public purse. A range of town and city centre pricing schemes will not tell us a great deal about the impact of road pricing on inter-urban routes and major trunk roads.
“If the Government intends to bring forward proposals for a national road-pricing scheme, we recommend that it first conducts pilot studies of the effect of pricing on the strategic road network.”
The committee was also critical of the Government’s plans for attempting to introduce national road pricing through the back door.
“A national road-pricing scheme would be a major departure from the local schemes envisaged in this Bill, which would merit its own piece of primary legislation,” it said.
Heeding this, the DfT said: “No decisions have been made on national road pricing.
“The Government is clear that any such decision would need to be informed by experiences from local charging schemes and should only come after a full and informed public debate.”
It also agreed that new legislation would be needed for a national scheme.