Suburban Express, Which Sued Over Online Reviews Claiming It Had Racist Drivers, Cheerfully Sends Out Racist Advertisement

from the fly-your-flag dept

Remember Suburban Express? It’s been a few years since we’ve had the pleasure of writing about the company that buses students between the University of Illinois and Chicago, or its lawsuit happy owner, Dennis Toeppen. Toeppen and his company have engaged in some fairly anti-consumer behaviors, most of which have to do with hefty three-figure fines unilaterally assessed to passengers for the most minor of infractions, like showing up for the wrong bus or on the wrong day. But some of the online critics also brought up issues with drivers for the company who treated foreign exchange students like trash in front of other passengers.

Now, one of Toeppen’s excuses for filing lawsuits against those specific critics is that this foreign exchange student was apologized to, though the company has never said from who or at what time that apology was issued. One would think such an apology was an indication of regret over those racist comments, had such an apology ever actually been issued. Judging by a recent advertisement Suburban Express sent out for its Christmas bus schedule, it seems like the drivers take their cues from the company at large.


Companies generally don’t advertise that students will ride buses with: “passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” Why? Well, because catering to any asshole that can’t stand being on a bus with someone who looks a bit different from them isn’t the MO for most people with a soul. One does wonder whether any lawsuits over the reviews accusing the company of racism would have survived all this being entered into evidence.

But, as per usual, Suburban Express was quick with an apology. And it’s just dripping with remorse.

When called out for a racist advertisement, companies don’t generally apologize for that by insisting that a major public university is terribly run because it admits a large number of foreign students, nor does it call that “selling out.” For the record, the actual percentage of Chinese-born students at U of I is much lower, not to mention that the claim that higher-paying foreign exchange students somehow are a burden on Illinois residents seems like a self-defeating argument.

Regardless, the Illinois Attorney General has decided to get involved, opening an investigation into the company to determine if Suburban Express violated the Illinois Human Rights Act. And, whaddya know, shortly after Lisa Madigan got involved, the company apologized again.

No need to read the entire apology. It’s actually apologetic, both for the initial advertisement and the first apology. Apologizing for an apology isn’t generally a good look, but the reputation Suburban Express has built for itself practically begs you to read this supposedly sincere apology in a tone of sarcasm, because nothing in the history of the company suggests that we should take this as anything other than the shivering, whimpering attempt to avoid the scrutiny of a state attorney general known as a bulldog.

Best of luck to Suburban Express in getting itself out of this one, and even more luck to any foreign student finding herself in need of a ride to Champaign-Urbana.

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Comments on “Suburban Express, Which Sued Over Online Reviews Claiming It Had Racist Drivers, Cheerfully Sends Out Racist Advertisement”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And yet, despite the companies ‘colorful’ history of insane things, people still use it.

We talk about wanting to change the world, yet we’ll still ride the racist bus where you might get fined $500 for coughing 1 time to many because the price is right.

We see companies, mainly game makers, screwing customers at every possible turn… and the fan boys scream & then buy the next thing the company puts out.

While these people might be offended by the company, it seems the love of cheap seats makes everything okay.

Its a shitty company, with questionable practices, who will sue over anything… and they only still exist because the public refuses to demand better with their dollars.

Ben (profile) says:

Real apology

I actually found myself finding the 2nd apology to be real, and without any need for sarcasm. It sounds like it’s been written by someone who truly understands the offences caused, and has a genuine desire to improve the culture of the bus company.

But… good luck with that, when you’re starting from such a low position.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: If you're only willing to say 'I'm sorry' when there's a penalty for not doing so...

Assuming you’re not being sarcastic, what possible reason could you have for believing the second ‘apology’ given their history?

If they truly regretted what they’d said they would have genuinely apologized before the Attorney General started an investigation, that a ‘real’ apology only came after that point smacks of nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid being charged.

carlb (profile) says:

Re: Real apology

“I actually found myself finding the 2nd apology to be real, and without any need for sarcasm…”

More likely, the first apology was written by whomever made the original racist post, while the second apology was written by outsiders who were well paid to do some damage control – be they a crisis public relations firm, lawyers, whomever. That would explain the difference in tone.

David says:

Re: Re: Real apology

It would also be my guess that the original person was ordered to write an apology, and instead wrote a rationalization. It’s a frequent coping tactic effectively amounting to "I am so sorry, I should have anticipated this being over your deluded head".

An actual apology requires a change in habit/world view and is rarely accessible on demand.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

People Still Using Suburban Express Despite "Colorful" History

Are there alternatives, or do they have a monopoly on that route?

It appears that it is fast and cheap to take the train. That would have the advantage of being more comfortable than the bus ride, even if you did not make a bee-line for the bar car.

Fortunately for Suburban Express, most students are not aware of the alternatives. It is also fortunate for Amtrak, who may lack the sort of careful thinkers that would add coaches and extra sections right around the times of school holidays.

Anonymous Coward says:

Something that might concern you, Timothy and Mike.

I tried to link this into a private facebook group so some family members would see your article. Several times. Each time, I got a message saying facebook was "Fetching preview" but never actually showed the page. Even after nearly 5 minutes of waiting.

I then tested the CBS story you linked, and facebook previewed that within milliseconds, almost as fast as I pasted it into the post. Removed it, tried your article again.

Here’s the exact link I’m using, and this is stuff I’ve done many times.

I wonder if facebook has blocked your blog for some reason? This is speculation, I know, but I have tested connections to both facebook and your site, and both seem to work fine, so facebook should be able to reach your blog, too.

I now have another tab open for the last 10 minutes, still trying to share this article. Facebook still says "Fetching preview" on the screen.

David says:

And the good point

shivering, whimpering attempt to avoid the scrutiny of a state attorney general known as a bulldog.

You know, there are some of those bulldogs who are white and male. And they get sworn to a constitution and a law system that is against discrimination, and they make it their job to stop discrimination, like they have sworn to do.

Like Eisenhower, a white Republican who sent the army to desegregate Southern U.S. schools. Something that Obama likely never would (and probably could) have done.

Because they swore to do a job, the Supreme Court takes a lot of pain picking apart what that means, and then they do the job they are paid for.

Which is a straightforward thing. They are not playing the my boys/your boys game. They are in for "my country", to the amount their job actually calls for.

It may be sad that this seems so extraordinary, but it doesn’t need to be.

Chuck says:

Facts matter

“For the record, the actual percentage of Chinese-born students at U of I is much lower”

Their total enrollment is 47,826 with 5,845 Chinese students. That’s 12.22% according to Windows Calculator. These are current Fall 2017 figures and are roughly in line with most other universities across the country. I live in Auburn, Alabama and Auburn University’s numbers aren’t much different.

I guarantee you that this BS 20% figure was pulled from an alt-right “news” site. It’s exactly the sort of bogus, nationalistic/jingoistic BS that they engage in, and the people who read it cannot tell they’re being lied to (in order to sell “nutritional supplements” which are neither nutritional nor supplement anything) at every single turn.

Regardless of the percentage, it’s amazing how these people can hate these students. You want to talk about stimulating the economy? How about 5,600 students paying a higher tuition rate? How about all the foreign money that flows into the US to do so? Would you rather this be money from middle-class American families who can barely afford it, or would you rather those poor US kids go to school on scholarships and let the Chinese students subsidize it?

Or just simply: how the hell is it a BAD thing for us to take their money? We’re selling them the exact same product we sell our own people, and we’re charging them a hefty markup. Are you alt-right nuts seriously mad that we’re doing that?

This is exactly the sort of thing that you get when you mix a “double down on everything” approach with a fact-free view of reality. And we can’t change the former until we change the later. We need a war. A War on Truthiness. It was funny on Colbert but now it has gone too far, and if we don’t fight it, we are all totally f**ked.

John85851 (profile) says:

Apology not accepted

The problem with issuing an apology after the first apology and after the initial statement comes down to this: who in the world thought it was a good idea to say those things in the first place?
Did they think they were being smart or funny? Did they think they wouldn’t get called out for offending people?

As always with things like this, the ad (and first apology) was written by someone, then approved by a manager, and then sent out by the marketing department to the public… and none of them thought there was anything wrong with what they did.
Oh, but it’s finally wrong when the State AG starts investigating.

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