Free SunPasses, cheap gas brighten Miami motorists’ day

A little neighborly love goes a long way for some Miami residents still feeling the effects of the economic recession.

On Wednesday morning, 1,000 lucky motorists passing through the 97th Avenue toll plaza on State Road 836 received free SunPass Mini transponders as part of Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz’s second annual “14 Days of Neighborly Love” campaign, which began on Valentine’s Day.

Diaz, members of his staff and Miami-Dade Expressway Authority Executive Director Javier Rodriguez were at the eastbound toll plaza starting at 6:30 a.m., handing the transponders to motorists in the non-SunPass lanes.

They asked only that people receiving the transponders pass on a good deed to someone else.

At first, drivers were skeptical of the people handing them the transponders through the window, thinking there must be a catch, Diaz said. But after a moment, a smile would appear.

“It was really nice,” Diaz said.

Sweetwater resident Paul Segovia received a free SunPass while driving to work at about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday morning.

He said he always tries to be a good person — for example, at the bank where he works, Segovia likes to help elderly customers to their cars.

But he’ll have a little extra love for his neighbors this week.

“I thought it was a very generous action,” Segovia, 23, said of Diaz’s campaign.

Last year, Diaz said he and his staff were brainstorming ideas for community outreach.

One staffer, Gloria Garces, came up with the idea to provide free and discounted services to Miami residents.

“And I said, ‘God bless you, let’s do it,’ ” Diaz said on Wednesday.

The commissioner’s office spread the word and soon local businesses were signing on for the effort.

Both years, Miami-Dade residents were able to take advantage of services such as tax preparation, marriage counseling, car washes and food giveaways.

The Finish Line gas station in Sweetwater participated in the first day of the event last year, offering a special cash price of $2.14 per gallon of regular-grade gasoline on Valentine’s Day.

This year, the gas station and convenience store at 109th Avenue and West Flagler Street offered regular-grade gas for a cash price of $2.27 the first and last days of the campaign.

Hundreds of cars were backed up for more than four blocks Wednesday morning.

Drivers started lining up at 5 a.m. to save about half of what they would normally pay for a tank of gas.

Finish Line is owned by Tony Cuevas and Roly Ramirez.

“We’re very grateful for the success that we have,” Ramirez said. “I always give back in some way or another.”

Diaz said he hopes to continue growing the event with more community sponsors next year.

“It’s fulfilling,” he said. “It’s fun and it’s good.”

Miami Herald staff reporters Walter Michot and Alexandra Leon contributed to this report.

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