Hospitality Highway Remains Hospitable as Georgia Reverses Ban on Pay-It-Forward Tolls

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A local tradition of southern hospitality on a road known as “Hospitality Highway” was almost banned -- before officials came to their senses and saw the value of kindness.

For years, drivers on the Ga. 400 highway enjoyed paying the 50-cent toll both for themselves and for the driver immediately waiting next in line. But after several recent complaints from motorists who believed that toll plaza employees were pocketing the extra change, making the next drivers pay anyway, the state declared an end to the goodwill gestures.

But drivers liked that policy even less. So the state did an about-face today.

Tolls on the highway were scheduled to be cancelled at the end of 2011, but Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue decided the state could use the money for other highway projects so he extended the toll collection until Nov. 21 of this year. The impending end of tolls on the highway may have led to an increased number of drivers engaging in the “pay-it-forward” donations and that, in turn, could account for the increase in complaints about mishandling, speculated Bert Brantley, deputy executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority.

“When it’s only one complaint every once in a while, it’s not a big deal,” Brantley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But we had repeat incidences of customers not believing that their pay-it-forward gesture was actually making it forward.”

Even big business used the “pay it forward” tradition to garner good publicity. McDonald’s, Maxwell House and the Atlanta Hawks NBA basketball team are among the companies that have paid driver tolls as promotional stunts.

Georgia State Senator John Albers, R-Roswell, announced the reversal to allow acts of generosity to continue.

“For the duration of this toll, it is important we continue to protect Ga. 400’s image as the ‘hospitality highway’ and allow motorists’ the ability to demonstrate goodwill toward their fellow man,” Albers said in a statement.

SOURCES: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2)