NEW YORK - Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers extra tolls to enter Manhattan's most congested neighbourhoods earned him invitations to speak at such gatherings as the UN climate conference and raised his profile as he considered a presidential run.

But the plan died Monday when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany announced his chamber wouldn't take up the proposal because of strong opposition within the conference dominated by New York City Democrats.

The traffic fee proposal, known as congestion pricing, called for cars to pay $8, and trucks $21, to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Opponents argued it was an unfair tax on middle-class commuters who drive to work for lack of mass transit options in their neighbourhoods.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters had said the administration hoped congestion pricing in New York could serve as a model for other cities nationwide. Charging drivers fees in congested city centres is a concept that has gained popularity around the world but has yet to be tried on a major scale in a large U.S. city.

A little more than a year ago, Bloomberg himself wasn't even persuaded the plan would succeed. He once said the idea was so politically charged that state legislators "will never let us do it."

But in the weeks leading up to the Earth Day 2007 speech in which he unveiled the plan, Bloomberg became convinced it was something New York City had to try, vowing to "fight like heck" to get it done.

Bloomberg, an independent with less than two years left in his second term, has long portrayed himself as a maverick leader unfazed by forging ahead with unpopular policy decisions, such as banning smoking in bars and clubs and outlawing trans fats in restaurants.

City officials estimated congestion pricing would reduce traffic by about six per cent and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for transportation projects. Bloomberg shrugged off criticism that the fee was too high by comparing it to the price of a movie.

By failing to pass congestion pricing before a midnight deadline on Monday, the state appeared to have forfeited an offer of $354 million in federal money to help kick-start the initiative.

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