Q: How is Peoria Charter doing now that Suburban Express has shut down?
A: It’s a little early to tell, but Peoria Charter saw a slight increase during the University of Illinois’ move-in weekend, said James Wang, its director of operations.
“We had a approximately 7,300 students come to U of I on our coaches this past weekend. That’s around 134 buses,” he said. “We did see a increase of about 350 people more than last year.”
That’s not much of an increase, but he said that’s because most of the people who use its buses to get to campus on move-in weekend are international students, while those from the suburbs typically travel with their parents.
“Of our international riders, we did not see that big of a increase, because even when Suburban Express was still operating, they did not have that much of the international market,” he said. “So with Suburban Express gone now, we would not really feel the effect for the big move at the start of school.”
Suburban Express once bragged about its lack of Asian riders, sending an email advertisement in December 2017 that said its benefits included “Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”
That eventually led to the Illinois attorney general filing a lawsuit against the company and its owner, Dennis Toeppen, who shut it down in May.
Peoria Charter is particularly busy on Fridays and Sundays, when suburban Chicago students travel home and back, Wang said, and he expects this year’s overall numbers to increase significantly.
“In 2018, Peoria Charter in Urbana transported over 185,000 passengers to and from the Chicagoland area. On the week of spring break 2018 alone, Peoria Charter transported over 24,000 passengers,” he said. “We expect to pass the 200,000-passenger mark this year in 2019.”
Peoria Charter recently expanded its Urbana facility, which Wang said can now “house double the amount of coaches that we used to be able to handle.”
He also said that despite the new higher gas tax in Illinois, Peoria Charter decided not to raise prices for now.The fuel tax “added a pretty large burden to our expenses, as our schedule service does not yield a big profit margin,” Wang said. “We want to see what a semester of eating the new fuel expense will do to our bottom line. In the end, we still want the services provided by Peoria Charter to be profitable.”