THE threat of congestion charging could finally be removed for York’s motorists, after the city’s transport chief dubbed the idea “a dead duck”.

Coun Steve Galloway said money earmarked by the Government for such schemes should be spent on alternative congestion-busting measures.

He said motorists should be encouraged out of their cars “by the carrot of improved convenience rather than the stick of prohibitive expense”.

Coun Galloway’s comments give the clearest signal yet that congestion charging will not be introduced in York. Previously, the ruling Liberal Democrats on City of York Council had said they would look at charging if it were part of a national scheme.

The Centre For Cities think-tank has called on the Government to abandon its push for local road-pricing schemes, if no city opts for such a move by the end of 2009, allowing the £1 billion Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) to be allocated to other schemes, such as better rail links for commuters, better city buses and new tram systems.

Attempts to introduce it in Manchester and Edinburgh have failed in recent years, leaving London as the only British city with a congestion charge.

Dermot Finch, director of the Centre for Cities, said: “Cities like Manchester and Edinburgh have found congestion charging a tough sell. Other cities considering a charge – like Cambridge, Reading and Bristol – are undecided. If there are no takers by the end of the year, the Government should call it a day on its current road user charging push.”

He said the recession meant Government transport grants would dwindle after 2011, and added: “The next Government should use the congestion charging pot to start up a new fund for transport projects, together with councils and the private sector.

Coun Galloway said: “I would agree that the TIF now needs to be reallocated.

“In the absence of a centralised, fully-automated system, congestion charging varied by local council area, now seems to be a dead duck. The huge TIF budget could be spent on incentives like cheap public transport and shorter cycle routes in an attempt to encourage people to leave their cars at home. “Coupled with congestion-busting schemes like the improvement programme for York’s northern bypass, people’s transport choices could be driven by the carrot of improved convenience rather than the stick of prohibitive expense which is represented by the road pricing option.”

Mr Finch said urban public transport had been a low priority on the Government’s to-do list for too long, and said after the general election, the next Government should create a £4 billion Urban Transport Investment Fund.

York Labour leader David Scott said no local party currently favoured congestion charging. He said there should be a “mature debate” on the issue, and if the money could be better spent then it should be.