Bus company subpoenaed after sending out offensive ad

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office is investigating a Champaign area-based bus company that recently sent out an email ad some thought disparaged Asians.

The Bus Company is called Suburban Express and operates shuttles from University of Illinois-Urbana to Chicago and the suburbs.The ad was sent via email Saturday.  It was designed to drum up business for the upcoming Christmas break.

Instead it's generated controversy.

The ad listed 11 benefits of riding with Suburban Express. One of those benefits read, "Passengers like you. You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses."

Madigan's office said Monday it subpoenaed Suburban Express to determine if the company violated the Illinois Human Rights Act after in the ad.

The University of Illinois called the email "bigoted" and Madigan expressed concerns that the ad by the company that serves University of Illinois students "may reflect that Suburban Express is discriminating against potential customers."

Noting the swift backlash, the company responded with a second email entitled "Apology."

"We made a remark based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students,” the email said. “The remark is being interpreted as a slap in the face of all non-caucasians for some reason, and that it not how it was intended."

Suburban Express went on to criticize U of I's high acceptance rate of international students. They falsely stated that 20 percent of U of I students are from China when U of I data states that number is closer to 12 percent.

Two student organizations, the Asian Pacific American Coalition and the Illini Democrats, say they will not accept the company's "non-apology."

"Equating the benefits of 'allowing fuzzy slippers' and 'refundable tickets' with the ability to board a bus with 'passengers that look like you' (which apparently just means 'not-Asian') is frankly dehumanizing and disgusting to our Asian classmates and friends," the Asian Pacific American Coalition said on Facebook.

The Illini Democrats issued a statement on Facebook that calls for a criminal investigation into Suburban Express's ad.

"The recent news of racist advertising practices by Suburban Express is appalling. While the questionable practices of Suburban Express are nothing new for the student community at the University of Illinois, derogatory references to Asian students are a new low, and completely unacceptable," they said in the statement.

There was no answer at the Suburban Express office Monday night and the Chicago Tribune couldn't reach the company's owner for comment. On its Facebook page, the company apologized.