02/15/2017 15:44 EST | Updated 02/16/2018 00:12 EST

Metrolinx to consider transit fares based on distance travelled

Metrolinx, long on the hunt for a way to create an integrated fare structure for all of the transit systems in the Greater Toronto area and Hamilton, has begun studying the idea of charging people based on how far they ride, whether on GO train, subway, bus or streetcar.

"Fare-by-distance is a model frequently used around the world, successfully," said Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx.

"We have no desire to increase people's commuting costs. What we want to do is make it more seamless for them."

The provincial agency was issued a mandate by the minister of transportation to create an "integrated travel experience in the GTHA." On Friday, the fare-by-distance model will be discussed at a Metrolinx board meeting. That will add to three existing ideas for fare integration:

- Modify the existing fare system to address problems like 905 riders who are forced to pay twice when transferring between transit systems. 

- Create a new zone-based system. The more zones a commuter crosses, the higher the fare.

- A new hybrid system with a flat fare for local travel and a fare-by-distance system for rapid transit and regional travel. 

Fare-by-distance came out of public consultation

Aikins said that a model of pure fare-by-distance emerged as an idea following a lengthy public consultation process that took place over the past year.

"A lot of people who live in the GTHA weren't born here, and they grew up in other cities around the world that use this same model, or they use GO which uses this same model. And it has worked for them, so a lot of people have brought it up," she said. 

It was also a favourite of Mayor John Tory, who voiced his approval for the model in late June.

Though four ideas are now being looked at, Aikins told CBC Toronto that Metrolinx is still a long way off from picking a preferred fare model and pitching it to the province.

"No one is favoured. We still have work to do," she said.

Metrolinx was expected to make a recommendation this past fall, but Aikins said the delay is the result of the need for more research.

"That's what a good study period should determine… if further study needs to be done," she said. 

Many details of a fare-by-distance model still have to be filled in, including how much it would cost commuters.

Rider advocacy organization concerned

Jessica Bell, the executive director of TTCriders, a transit advocacy group, says they are "less than thrilled' by the latest idea being mulled by the provincial transit agency.

"The idea of getting rid of co-fares [people being charged twice as they move across transit systems] is a good one, we are supportive of that," she said. "What we don't want is for riders to have to pay more to get rid of an unfair border tax."

Bell is concerned that a fare-by-distance system would hurt low-income commuters who live far away from the core and travel long distances every day.

"What we need is more funding from all levels of government so we can have better service and lower fares for everyone across the city," she said.

The fare-by-distance model will be formally introduced to the Metrolinx board at a meeting on Friday.