Transit commuters who are travelling further should be asked to pay more, while those travelling in off-peak hours should get a break, according to a new report aimed at addressing the funding needed for Toronto’s future public transportation plans.

Those are just two of the recommendations found in a report released Tuesday by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO).

The report -- entitled Financing Roads and Public Transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area -- seeks to address how the GTHA should tackle a massive, 25-year plan to improve transit and associated infrastructure in the coming years.

With the GTHA facing a funding shortfall related to its “ambitious” plans to overhaul the regional transit system -- expected to cost $50 billion over 25 years -- the RCCAO report says "considerable sums" must be raised.

To meet these objectives, the report puts forth a range of ideas that ultimately sees both local residents and visitors paying more to use the GTHA’s transit system, roads and parking spaces.

Among them, changes include increased "distance-based pricing" for transit fares -- meaning longer rides would cost more -- and tolls on heavily congested roadways during peak hours. On the plus side, there’s potential to see lower fares if you travel shorter distances or outside rush hour.

The ultimate goal, says the RCCAO, is to charge people in a "more fair and effective" manner.

"I think, with new technology, the sky’s the limit," said RCCAO spokesperson Andy Manahan. "There are lots of possibilities in terms of charging people in fair and perhaps more effective ways."

Metrolinx -- the government-owned agency which coordinates transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, including the TTC and GO Transit -- says it needs $50 billion over 25 years to dramatically improve transit in the region.

But with provincial and municipal governments committing to only a fraction of that, alternate sources of revenue are needed to bring the plan to life. "There is a large gap between the funds available and the costs of financing and funding these plans. New sources of revenue will be necessary," the report states.

The five main fundraising recommendations in the RCCAO report include:

  • Transit fares based on distance travelled and time spent on the system
  • Restructuring of on- and off-street parking fees to encourage better use of space
  • A commercial parking tax or levy, which would apply to non-residential, off-street spaces
  • Tolls on heavily congested roads during peak hours, or tolls on the 400-series highways and other major roads
  • Implementation of either a fuel tax, vehicle levy or transit-sales tax, which would spread out the fees

As a last recommendation, the RCCAO stresses that local governments clearly outline simple and consistent objectives associated with such changes, as increased transit fees and road tolls are known to be controversial and politically unpopular.

The RCCAO also suggests that the public is more in favour of increased transit costs as long as they know the money raised goes back into local infrastructure.

"People are driving the 407 … so I think the aversion to road-pricing is a little bit of make-believe attitude," said Manahan. "The polling that’s been done recently shows that people are more supportive of road-pricing and other measures if they see that it’s dedicated to pay for transportation infrastructure."

The City of Toronto’s latest budget earmarks $1.2 billion to operate public transit, as well as more than $500 million to repair the aging Gardiner.

Ontario Premier-Designate Kathleen Wynne weighed in on the region's transit plans Tuesday morning, saying transit is a "huge priority" for the GTA.

"It's the number one condition we need to get right in terms of economic growth," she said.

But Wynne stopped short of saying whether she supported the plan as outlined by the RCCAO.

"There has been a lot of talk around the kinds of tools we can use as municipalities and as a province to generate a revenue stream for the building of transit ... I’m not going to specify which of the tools we’ll adopt," she said, adding:  "It’s not whether we’re going to create revenue stream -- I’ve said that -- it’s which of those tools we’re going to use.”

The RCCAO report was written by two university professors: Harry Kitchen of Trent University and Robin Lindsey of UBC.