Detroit Heroes: Louie Wingard Sr.
Highlighting the Essential Workers of Detroit
During these uncertain times, we can lean on hope! We are starting a new series entitled "Detroit Heroes" where we will highlight the essential workers at the City of Detroit ensuring we are safe and our city is running!
Two months ago, Louie Wingard Sr. was on his regular route transporting a full bus of Detroiters. Today, the interaction he has with his riders is limited.
In March, Mayor Mike Duggan, along with leaders from the three unions representing Detroit Department of Transportation employees announced provisions to keep transportation equipment operators (TEOs) like Wingard safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers now enter the bus through the rear doors, and bus fares are waived to prevent the spread of the virus. Passengers also are required to wear masks or face coverings. Seats behind the drivers are to remain vacant unless used by a transit officer. The TEOs are equipped with a minimum of two to five pairs of gloves and disinfectant wipes at the start of each shift. More details on these provisions can be found here.
“It's really difficult when you’re driving and operating the coach to try to express 'social distancing' to people coming in through the back door. That's different,” he said. “You don't want them within six feet but you have to take those precautions now so that's the big difference. It's totally different operating your coach and dealing with your passengers.”
Before working for DDOT, Wingard came from an industrial background. He thought TEOs just drove the buses. He’s since learned the job entails so much more. Wingard has been a TEO with DDOT for nearly four years. Driving the same route for that amount of time, the Detroit father says it has allowed him to foster relationships with his regular riders.
“This isn't just driving a bus,” Wingard said. “We're out there. We're like counselors; I thought that once I got in that seat, Wow, these people really do need us.”
DDOT drivers are viewed by the public as essential workers and heroes because they are still helping Detroiters get to where they need to be in a world that has somewhat stopped. Wingard, however, says he’s just doing his job.
“To be honest with you, that title means nothing to me,” he said. “I dress up in |LS|uniform|RS| and do my job. So, whether it's called 'essential operator' or 'bus driver,' I show up to work and put my |LS|time|RS| in, whether it's an extra name to it or not.”
During his time as a driver, Wingard has been able to connect with Detroit students that utilize the DDOT system. He says some of the high school seniors are very sad they won’t be able to participate in senior activities. He has encouraged them to keep pushing forward because new opportunities are on the horizon.
“I tell them, look, that's just a ceremony so everybody can recognize you. You've accomplished your goal, you graduated, you got the right grades, move forward past this. It has nothing to do with you. This is a world thing, "Wingard said. He hopes the students will go on to college and earn degrees or even pick up a skilled trade.
Being a TEO during a global pandemic is hard work, but Wingard continues to get up, on time for his 3:30 a.m. shift because people depend on him to drive his routes. “I get to touch so many different lives throughout the day, even during this pandemic so that's the good part.”
For COVID-19 resources, call the Detroit Health Department Hotline at (313) 876-4000 or visit the City's COVID-19 response page here.