A recent push to consider placing road tolls on routes into Toronto could be successful if the city makes it clear the money would go to improving transit systems, an urban economist said on Friday.

Kevin Stolarick, research director at the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute, said a toll with a specific benefit is more likely to be accepted by commuters than a general tax.

He said the key is to make clear that the toll is tied directly to investment and improvement in transit.

"Everybody right now is talking about transit, everybody is thinking about transit. If they were ever going to do it, now is the time," Stolarick told CTV News Channel.

"They really want to provide an incentive so that people can be more interested in taking transit. Part of what they want to do with the money is dedicate it to transit so they are able to invest more.

"If you really want to cut commute times and get people off the road you have to provide them with a better alternative."

The issue of road tolls has been a topic of recent debate in Toronto as city council considers ways to fund transit improvements.

At the same time, traffic congestion in and out of the downtown core has grown increasingly congested and, according to economists, has had an increasingly negative impact on the region's prosperity.

Earlier this week, Coun. Josh Matlow urged city staff to research the idea of road tolls with the aim on raising money to fund transit project in and around the city. Mayor Rob Ford has openly opposed the idea of road tolls.

A Pembina Institute study released last week suggested drivers in the GTA would be willing to pay for alternatives to beat the gridlock.

Half of the drivers surveyed as part of the study said they were willing to pay a road toll, sales tax or a parking fee, while 69 per cent said they would be more supportive of the idea if the money went directly to expanding rapid transit.

The survey also suggested people would be more likely to work from home or take transit into work if the options existed.

Stolarick said that he doubted a toll would discourage people from coming in from the suburbs or surrounding area, pointing to cities like Stockholm and London that have implemented congestion taxes and experienced little negative impact.

"Toronto has been growing so much residentially internally that you now have as many people commuting out of Toronto into the suburbs as you do coming into Toronto from the suburbs. You may see people moving so they live closer to where they work, so you would see less people commuting."

"If you went overboard with it, if you taxed like crazy and placed significant surcharges on it, I think that would be a problem."