Suburban Express owner sends second apology after UI condemns company


By Jessica Bursztynsky, News Editor

Transportation company Suburban Express emailed its customers a racially charged message in its Christmas break advertisement Saturday morning.

Among a list of self-identified perks, the company wrote, “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”

This sentence references the University’s high international student enrollment.

In a follow-up apology email, the company stated it “made a remark based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students.” While it did not state who their competitor is, the bus company Peoria Charter makes stops at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

It added it was not intended to be “a slap in the face of all non-caucasians.”

The statement then went on to disapprove of the way the University handles enrollment.

Because the University is a public school, the statement said, it should focus its efforts on providing education to Illinois citizens.

“U of I mismanagement over the past few decades has put them in a financial bind,” the email said. “To solve the problem, they admit large numbers of international students who pay higher tuition.”

Owner Dennis Toeppen sent another apology message to The Daily Illini and three University officials who condemned the company Sunday afternoon.

“When we wrote a recent promotional email, we mentioned that Suburban Express riders would not encounter Chinese exchange students on our buses. That’s because they all ride our competitor now,” Toeppen wrote. “It was an ill-advised statement to make, because it upset the very people we were sad to have lost.”

In 2013, a person affiliated with Suburban Express made racially-insensitive comments toward a customer, Toeppen said, which resulted in the company losing business among Asian students.

“We were very hurt by the loss of those riders. We meant them no harm, and we felt we were being unjustly punished,” he said.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Danita Brown Young, Director of International Student and Scholar Services Martin McFarlane and Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokel released a statement Sunday morning condemning Suburban Express.

“The university has no business relationship with this company. Their vehicles are not permitted to pick up or drop off passengers on university property,” said the statement.

Even though students have the option of being picked up at Illinois Street Residence Halls, Altgeld Hall and the Armory, the company is allowed to do so as it is a public street, said University spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

“They have tried, for example, hanging their posters in classrooms and we take them down,” she said.

The statement added that while the University cannot prevent the company from running its business, officials “can, loudly and unambiguously, say that the opinions expressed by Suburban Express are offensive, bigoted, insulting and in direct opposition to the values of this university.”

The statement concluded by encouraging customers to look into the company before purchasing tickets.

“Suburban Express welcomes students of all nationalities on our buses. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to further their own agenda. We apologize for our insensitive statement, and we hope to do a better job of unifying the campus community in the future, from our office in the heart of campustown,” Toeppen wrote.

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