Bus Company Serving College Students Drops Lawsuits Against Riders
By Sean Powers
A bus company serving college students has dropped more than 120 small claim suits against its passengers. Suburban Express had filed suits alleging that riders violated the company’s terms and conditions.
A few weeks ago, University of Illinois student Jeremy Leval was returning to campus on a Suburban Express bus when he said he noticed a bus driver insulting an international student, who was having trouble understanding English.
Alain Leval of Highland Park, who is acting as his son’s attorney, said Jeremy tried to defend the student, and then later turned to social media to let people know about the incident. The online posting went viral, and began a larger conversation about problems other people have had with the bus company.
Alain said his son has become one of the many students to be sued by Suburban Express for allegedly interfering with its bus service.
“For many students, the threat was enough to have them make payment whether it was valid,” Alain said.
“This thing should have never happened,” he added. “But perhaps in hindsight, the fact that it did occur may save other students from that kind of intimidation.”
According to the suit against his son, Alain said Suburban Express was seeking $500, in addition to attorney’s fees and the ticket.
Attorney David Schaper was representing one of the other defendants being sued by the company. Back in 2010, his client purchased a bus ticket for her teenage daughter to go from Champaign to Northbrook, Ill.
After the bus failed to arrive, Schaper said the mother called her credit card company to reverse charges for the ticket. In January 2013, she received a collection letter from Suburban Express, threatening to sue her.
After she refused to pay up, Schaper said the company did follow through with that threat with a lawsuit filed in Ford County court in Paxton, which is about two hours from Chicago and roughly 25 minutes from Champaign.
“There’s no connection between this case and Ford County,” Schaper said. “I made a motion to transfer venue. The judge after the hearing and the briefing agreed to grant our motion.”
Schaper noted that the only connection to Ford County is that Suburban Express had a clause in its terms and conditions that any legal action between the passengers and the company must take place in Ford County.
“Normally, venue is the place where you bring a lawsuit in Illinois as the place where the defendants reside, or where some substantial portion of the transaction occurred.”
Another concern raised by U of I students is the company’s policy of charging riders an automatic $100 fine if they use their ticket on the wrong day or for the wrong trip.
In addition to dismissing the lawsuits, Suburban Express said it is modifying its agreement policy with riders. A revised policy currently posted on its website does not include any reference to a fine or Ford County.
U of I Student Body President Damani Bolden said he welcomes any policy changes by Suburban Express, but he still wants the Illinois Attorney General’s office to investigate the company’s practices.
“Our focus is just to ensure that students are being treated fairly by whatever corporation that we do business with and that we’re not being taken advantage of and being discriminated against,” Bolden said.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General said the office has received complaints about Suburban Express, and it wants to meet with company officials.
"We still have some questions for (Suburban Express)," Spokesman Scott Mulford said. "In the meantime, people can still let our office know about inquiries or consumer complaints."
An attorney representing the company, Rochelle Funderburg with the Champaign law firm Meyer Capel, declined an interview request. Funderburg said she does not comment on her client’s cases.