Gu Qingtai, a taxi driver in Dalian, Liaoning province, offers free rides to passengers on the day of Chinese New Year. He has kept this tradition since 1993 and inspired many others to follow. [Photo/China Daily]
DALIAN, Liaoning - On the first day of every Chinese New Year, taxi driver Gu Qingtai decorates his car with red silk ribbons and provides free rides for his passengers.
It has been Gu's annual love for nearly 20 years.
This year, however, Gu, of Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, is not alone. All 60 taxis of the "Gu Qingtai Taxi Love Team" will join him by taking passengers for free.
Gu, 56, named the day of Chinese New Year his own "thanksgiving day" in 1993. He decided to take passengers free of charge to express his gratitude for his higher income.
"When I resigned from a factory and became a taxi driver in 1991, I earned 10,000 yuan ($1,500) that year, nearly 18 times my previous year," Gu recalled.
With a heart full of gratitude, Gu always does his best to help passengers.
He once picked up an old man at a hospital in 1994. When they arrived at the destination, the man, who was in his 80s, took out his wallet with a trembling hand. All of his money, including the coins, couldn't make up the 7-yuan fee.
Gu didn't take his money.
From his rearview mirror, Gu saw the old man bow to his taxi with clasped hands.
"I grieved to see it and realized that the small cost of a taxi fee may mean a lot for weaker people," Gu told China Daily.
He then made up his mind that whenever he meets vulnerable people on the street, especially the disabled and the old, he would take them for free, even when they are not waiting for a taxi.
In 2000, his fame spread as he began to shuttle students from extremely needy families to the college entrance examination.
"I want to do my bit for the students in such an important exam that may determine their destiny," he said.
Local radio reported Gu's story and called for more drivers to join the effort.
At first, other taxi drivers thought it was just flashy showmanship, and some even tried to shoulder his car off the road.
Gu didn't respond, but kept doing what he thought was right, and he gradually earned the respect of his peers.
In 2003, there were so many like-minded drivers that Gu registered "Gu Qingtai Taxi Love Team" bringing together drivers with a strong sense of social responsibility.
At present, there are 60 taxis and 120 drivers on Gu's team from different taxi companies in Dalian. All have registered with the Dalian Charity Federation as volunteers to help the needy.
Since May 2008, drivers from the team have been shuttling Qi Meijian and her twin 10-year-old sons - both with cerebral palsy - between the rehabilitation center and their home for free.
"Seeing the brothers getting better, all of us feel happy for them," said Zhang Ling, a female taxi driver from Gu's team, who volunteered to help for 10 months.
After the Dalian Charity Federation placed donation boxes in the team's taxis in 2006, passengers often put coins or even all their change into the boxes.
Gu couldn't remember how many people he has helped, but he couldn't forget the many people who have dedicated songs for him on the radio and given him their best wishes.
In 2005, Gu was elected a national-level model worker.
Officials from the local traffic administration gave him a lucky plate number, "BT8888", in the hopes Gu's taxi can bring good luck and fortune to more passengers with the lucky number 8.
"When we live comfortably, we should think about people who are less fortunate. One person doing a good thing is like a point of light; a group of people doing good is like a beam; if all of us join in, there will be brightness everywhere," he said.