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Bangor Bus Drivers Call for Boosting Public Transit Funds

Bus drivers in Bangor are calling on Maine's congressional delegation to back more federal funding for mass transit. The drivers, who voted to unionize a year ago, gathered near one of the city's main bus stops this morning for a rally. They want U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to support a transportation funding bill, passed last week by the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill essentially reauthorizes a measure signed into law by President Obama two years ago. As with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, this latest reauthorization bill would set aside $52 billion a year for transportation projects over the next six years. Some of that money would go to fund public transit across the country.

"Eighty percent of our funding here in Bangor comes from the federal government," says Susan Warner, who lives in Carmel and drives a public bus in Bangor. "We service a lot of poor, working poor, disabled, elderly, students," Warner said. "And if the bus goes away, those people will have to use cars or walk. And neither of those is a good option."

A year ago, Warner and 33 of her colleagues in Bangor signed on with the Amalgamated Transit Union to represent them in their dealings with the city. The union just worked out its fist contract deal with the city this month and now hopes to persuade U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to support the transportation reauthorization bill.

Their effort got a hand from a labor backer and Maine politician who hopes to soon join the state's congressional delegation.

"You know, the thing about Washington is that, in my opinion, there's too many millionaires there that are worried about how people on Wall Street are going to get to work in their BMWs, and their Lincolns and limos," said Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat who is running in the primary in Maine's 2nd Congressional District against fellow state Sen. Emily Cain.

Jackson says politicians in Washington need to spend more time worrying about how working class people get to and from work. "I say, 'Washington, get on the bus, because it's time working-class people were represented in Washington!'" he said.

In statements, spokesmen for both Susan Collins and Angus King say the two U.S. senators understand how important public transit is to the people of Maine and to the state's economy. And both senators, the statements say, will be reviewing options for investing in the nation's transportation needs.

Meantime, Emily Cain's spokesman says she supports reauthorization of the transportation funding bill.