The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Shuttle service under fire for comments deemed racially insensitive

Suburban Express recently made comments deemed racist towards Asians on their busses.
Screenshot from Facebook

University of Iowa webpages will no longer suggest Suburban Express as a means of travel for students following race-targeted comments the company made in an advertisement.

Last week, Illinois-based Suburban Express, a shuttle service available to students on numerous college campuses who are traveling to Illinois suburbs, published comments that have received backlash for being racially insensitive.

In an email attempting to promote services for University of Illinois students to use over the holiday break, the company remarked in a statement that the buses are filled with “Passengers like you,” and, “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”

The remarks were instantly met with criticism for targeting individuals of Chinese descent, which prompted a follow-up email statement from the company that confirmed the comments were made to insult.

While apologizing for the comments, the company continued with more statements deemed as insensitive, saying its officials disagree with the University of Illinois’ willingness to admit high numbers of international students.

“We agree that having a healthy mixture of different cultures and ethnicities is valuable,” the company statement said. “But we’re not comfortable with the idea of selling our university to the highest foreign bidder.”

In response, the University of Illinois condemned the behavior and stated it has no business-relationship with the company. It also urged community members not to use the service.

In addition, the University of Iowa will no longer show the company as a campus resource.

“The UI had no official relationship with this company but listed it on UI websites as an option for students seeking transportation,” Jeneane Beck, assistant vice president for external relations, said in an emailed statement to The Daily Iowan. “The UI has removed Suburban Express from all UI webpages following its unacceptable and intolerant statements.”

Suburban Express started business in the early 1980s as a cheaper alternative to competing bus services.

Following the condemnation from the University of Illinois, as well as a blast in media coverage and negative online comments toward the company, owner Dennis Toeppen issued a lengthy statement on Facebook attempting to clear up the matter.

“When we wrote a recent promotional email, we mentioned that Suburban Express riders would not encounter Chinese exchange students on our buses,” the statement said. “That’s because they all ride our competitor now. It was an ill-advised statement to make, because it upset the very people we were sad to have lost. Suburban Express welcomes students of all nationalities on our buses. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to further their own agenda.”

Suburban Express employees believe Chinese exchange students use other services because of an incident in 2013 in which a person affiliated with the company made an “inappropriate comment” to a non-English speaker. That incident drew concerns from customers on social media.

When The Daily Iowan asked for comment, the company restated the above post.

This is not the first instance in which Suburban Express has been under fire for questionable behavior. In 2012 and 2013, the company filed small-claims lawsuits against more than 100 student passengers for actions such as boarding the wrong bus and seeking refunds for unused tickets. The suits were later dropped.

The company also runs a “Page of Shame,” detailing complaints about customers and including their private information like names and phone numbers. The site’s description reads: “Think of this as a review site, where we review what we consider to be bad customers. Other merchants: We think you should think twice before doing business with these individuals — or at least require cash payment. But that’s just our opinion.”

However, upon clicking the link, the website redirects to a 404 Not Found page.

Despite the company’s apologies, its comments have offended many in the community, and have altered perceptions about the shuttle service.

“I’ve been using Suburban Express to go back to the Chicago suburbs since I started here in August,” UI freshman Lauren Whitney said. “It’s really sad to hear that they keep having issues concerning racism. It makes me think twice before riding with them again.”

UI lists private transit companies Megabus, Burlington Trailways, and Greyhound as options for students to use to travel to the Chicago area.

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