Ye Zhantong, founder of "love hitchhike", an organization offering free rides to passengers, promotes the organization by showing its banner to residents waiting at a bus station in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, this month. (Photo source: Du Xiaowei / China Daily)
By An Baijie in Zhengzhou
BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhuanet) -- Zhu Lijun wanted to be a "loving driver" and offer free rides in his SUV to passengers he saw on the roadside during his daily commutes.
He quickly found his loving attitude would often go unrequited.
Zhu, a 42-year-old man in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan province, joined "love hitchhike" - an organization established in November by volunteers who liked to give passengers free rides.
Group members make it a practice to look for people standing at bus stations or waiting for taxis and ask them if they would like to be driven anywhere for free.
The travelers, if their destination happens to be on the driver's route, often accept. But far more refuse, saying they are worried that, despite the driver's assurances, they will be charged once they reach their destination, Zhu said.
Zhu estimated that he has met with refusals from about 70 percent of the people he has offered free rides to, a cause of frustration.
"Several days ago at about noon, I came across two women who were holding a little baby at a bus station," he said.
"It was very hot then, so I asked them whether they would like to get in my car for a free ride. I was really disappointed when they both refused."
He showed the two women a banner used by the organization "love hitchhike" and a green ribbon fastened onto the car's mirror - another of the volunteer organization's symbols. His demonstration only had the effect of making them more cautious.
"I just want to help since I saw they were standing in the hot sun holding a little baby," he said.
Later, the two women tried to dissuade a man at the bus station from getting into Zhu's car, warning that Zhu might be the driver of a so-called black taxi - uninsured, unlicensed taxis that often rely on haggling, rather than meters, to set their fares.
The man, learning that he and Zhu wanted to go to the same fruit market, ignored the women's advice and climbed into the SUV, Zhu said.
"It's understandable that some people don't place trust in others people's goodwill, especially when you live in a society that can put you at risk for helping an elderly person who has fallen down on the road," he said.
Before he bought his SUV last year, Zhu would ride an electric bicycle even in bad weather, he said. It was the painful memory of those trips that prompted him to begin offering free rides to others.
The founder of "love hitchhike" is 38-year-old Ye Zhantong. He said the idea for the organization came to him four years ago, when he was a migrant worker who had moved to Zhengzhou from the countryside.
"I tried to ask for a free ride ... but I was refused eight times," he said. "None of the drivers would stop and lend a hand."
After working for years, he started a company that repaired home appliances and bought his own car. But, despite his rising fortunes, he could not banish from his mind the memories of being refused a ride by drivers.
He started the voluntary team in November.
More than 700 drivers are now members.
"Some drivers quit after seeing their offers of help frequently refused," he said. "But we are glad to see that the majority have stuck with us and that more people are joining us every day."
Wang Xipiao, a 40-year-old resident in the Jinshui district of Zhengzhou, said he would rather wait for a bus or a taxi than accept a free ride.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch, and it makes me feel unsafe to get in a stranger's car," he said. "Besides, what if the driver hasn't driven much and we get into an accident while I'm taking the ride?"
Several taxi drivers, for their part, said they were worried the offers of free rides would harm their business.
"The minimum fare for taking a taxi in Zhengzhou has just been increased this month from 6 yuan (95 cents) to 8 yuan and fewer people are now taking taxis," said a female driver who declined to give her full name. "These free rides are only going to harm our business even more."
Ye said the organization he founded plans to take steps to ensure that passengers who accept free rides are safe, as well as to avoid affecting taxi drivers' business.
"We have decided that volunteer drivers must have more than a year's worth of driving experience before they can join our team," he said. "And we are going to buy insurance for our team members."
Volunteer drivers in the organization are being asked to only offer rides at the busiest travel hours, when many people find it difficult to get a taxi, or when it is raining or uncomfortably hot outdoors.
"If passengers don't have an urgent need for a ride, we won't offer them," he said. "That's how we'll avoid affecting taxi drivers' business."