Manchester stands on the brink of a decision which could lead to drivers paying up to £5 a day to make a return journey to the city centre.
Fifteen main routes into the city centre will be chargeable
But is congestion charging really the answer to transport problems?
What do John McGoldrick, from the National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) and Roger Jones, chairman of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA), believe the charges would bring?
WILL CHARGING REDUCE CONGESTION?
John McGoldrick: Charging does reduce the number of vehicles and people entering the tolled areas and in London it did have a short-term effect in increasing traffic speeds.
But the Fifth Annual Monitoring Report issued by Transport for London in July showed traffic speeds in the charge zone were back to where they were before the charge was introduced - under nine miles per hour during the day. Even if it did work, a toll tax is very expensive and inefficient. The London charge costs £7 per vehicle per day to collect or £4 if you offset the cost with the income from late payment fines that start at £100.
Roger Jones: For Greater Manchester, congestion charging alone would not reduce congestion enough to halt its negative impact on the city region's economy.
What has been proposed is a £3bn public transport revolution - including the extension of the Metrolink, more and better buses, longer trains and more routes linking all 10 districts of Greater Manchester - followed by a limited congestion charge, introduced only once these improvements are in place.
The independent modelling undertaken on behalf of the GMPTA shows the provision of safe, reliable, quality alternatives to car travel at peak times alongside a targeted congestion charge would reduce congestion on the region's roads to a level that would allow its economy to continue to grow.
WILL CHARGING REDUCE POLLUTION?
Roger Jones: Congestion charging alone can only have a limited impact on changing travel behaviour. However, Greater Manchester's proposals are for a combination of vastly improved public transport choices alongside the targeted congestion charge, and it is predicted that this will encourage changes in travel behaviour resulting in a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions during rush hour.
Both agree that the charge would have a limited impact on pollution
John McGoldrick: No. The suggestion that any form of tolls reduces "global pollution" is a red herring. The way to encourage fuel economy and minimise emissions from vehicles is through improvements to vehicle engines and exhausts and through existing fuel taxes. Tolls in any form do nothing to encourage fuel economy and will make it worse as some drivers will make longer journeys to avoid tolls.
WILL CHARGING AFFECT LOCAL JOBS?
John McGoldrick: It has been suggested that jobs will be lost if charges are not introduced but common sense says that people, businesses and their customers will avoid a tolled area where there is a choice.
The last survey (August 2005) carried out by the London Chamber of Commerce said 84% of retailers in the central charging zone reported a fall in takings during the first eighteen months of the scheme. Almost 63% reported a fall in customer numbers. 37% of retailers in the central charging zone reduced their staffing levels as a result of the congestion charge
Roger Jones:The economy of Greater Manchester is booming. However, one of the key constraints on this growth is the growing problem of congestion.
If congestion in Greater Manchester continues to grow unchecked, by 2021 the city region will have lost out on 30,000 jobs. This is unacceptable, and the combination of £3bn of public transport improvements and a targeted congestion charge within the proposals would ensure that each of the new 210,000 jobs predicted to be created in Greater Manchester can be realised and sustained.
Many leading cities across the world are benefiting from the introduction of successful congestion charging schemes.
CAN CHARGING CREATE ENOUGH CASH FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT?
Roger Jones:The £3bn funding package breaks down as follows. £1.2bn would come directly from the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) with the other £1.8bn borrowed from central government - to be paid back with the revenue of 30 years of the congestion charge.
This financial package is robust, and the repayment scheme conservatively calculated - allowing for a considerable drop in the number of cars once the public transport improvements are in place and the congestion charge introduced.
John McGoldrick: Only at a terrible cost to people and businesses.
The Greater Manchester plan includes borrowing nearly £2bn to spend on transport and to repay that over 25 years or so from the road tolls. The interest will nearly double the amount to be repaid. But worst of all is that based on the cost of collecting the London Charge, if the Manchester daily toll was fixed at £5 per vehicle you would make a profit of only about £1 per vehicle from the tolls and late payment fines.
You would need to collect many billions from drivers and business to make enough profits to repay the £2 billion and the interest on it.
IS THE CHARGE UNFAIR ON POORER PEOPLE ?
John McGoldrick: Yes, of course it is. Part of the purpose of any road toll is to discourage drivers. It is bound to be the less well off who are driven off the road.
It has been suggested that there could be some form of scheme whereby poorer drivers would get a discount on the toll. Can anybody really believe that such a means tested scheme would be practical or cover all of the worst off drivers?
Roger Jones:Greater Manchester's TIF proposals are for a vast £3bn improvement in public transport right across Greater Manchester - the biggest public transport investment in the UK ever outside London - followed by a targeted congestion charge.
Under our proposals Greater Manchester's congestion charge would be discounted for vulnerable groups, it would only operate between 7-9.30am towards Manchester city centre and 4-6.30pm outbound. Therefore a majority of journeys during the day, away from the flow of traffic, orbital journeys, or at weekend would not be charged. Greater Manchester's TIF proposals are about providing alternatives to the car, providing a sustainable future for our children, and allowing the economy of the city region to continue to flourish as it should.