Charter service sparks safety concerns

CHAMPAIGN -- The school district cut ties with a local charter service. Parents say it's because it's related to a bus company that has serious safety violations. A federal agency is threatening to shut down LEX Express. Now some parents are telling their stories of why they'll never pay for a ride again.

The Unit 4 School District has a policy of no longer contracting with Illini Tours Charter Service. LEX and Illini Tours are separate companies, but they share the same address in Champaign.

According to parents, they share the same problems. Central High School's football team typically plays its games in Central Illinois. But this season's schedule included a game in the Chicago suburbs.

"The booster club thought it would be a great idea to put the guys on some buses and take them up and give them some nice memories for their senior year," said football booster club president Joe Stovall.

The club decided to contract with Illini Tours, not knowing it was affiliated with LEX Express; a company the booster club wanted nothing to do with.

"The first bus that pulled up was a solid blue bus," said Stovall.

But the other two that arrived to pick parents and players up were clearly marked LEX. By then it was too late. All the passengers piled on board. Stovall says it wasn't more than a half an hour later when a LEX-marked bus started shutting down.

"It probably did that at least 7 or 8 times between Champaign and our final destination."

Coming home wasn't any different.

"On the way back the bus literally shut down at least five more times until it finally shut down in Paxton," he said.

The passengers and their equipment were moved to another bus. Parents complained to the district the next day and changes were made immediately. Unit 4 vowed to never work with the company again.

"That showed that the district really was concerned about the safety of the students in Unit 4 because if you didn't ride on the bus, I think you would probably think that people were exaggerating when some of the stories came back," Stovall said. "But it was no exaggeration. It truly was the ride from hell."

Here's what LEX had to say about the incident:

   "Illini Tours, which is a separate company, was chartered
    to take 3 buses to South Chicago for a football game. On
    the way of the buses experienced a mechanical
    issue which was easily resolved. Illini tours took additional
    safety measures. It was decided to transfer the passengers.
    Everything went smoothly...and the group only lost 30 minutes
    of time."

We checked the safety record for Illini Tours on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website. The company did not have any serious violations.

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