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HOUSTON — Operator Matt Assolin now has the perfect “war story” to share when advocating for safer and more equal regulation of transportation network companies like Uber.
At 10:15 a.m. Sept. 25, an allegedly uninsured Uber vehicle rear-ended a 2016 Chevrolet Suburban driven by a chauffeur for Assolin’s company, Nikko’s Worldwide Chauffeured Services of Houston. The crash happened on the Will Clayton Parkway on the property of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport while the chauffeur was en route to pick up an arriving client.
The chain-reaction rear end collision happened when a vehicle in front of the Suburban braked suddenly, said Assolin, who first reported the incident on his Facebook page. The chauffeur halted in time, but the Uber driver did not stop his Lincoln MKX that rammed the Suburban at an estimated 45 mph, totaling the SUV, he added.
“He walloped the back of him. I get there and I know two police department guys who said the Uber car had no insurance. Well, what do you know? Isn’t that something we’ve been talking about for years as an industry?”
Authorities were still investigating the exact cause of the collision. The Uber driver reportedly told police at the scene he was not texting or using his smartphone at the time of the accident, Assolin said.
“There are now so many cars on the road that verified commercial insurance is the only way it should be,” said Assolin, vice president of the Houston Area Livery and Charter Association and vice president of Nikko’s, founded in 1982 by his father Nick Assolin.
The Uber vehicle appeared to be legally registered with a valid airport permit on the windshield. It has an expired city of Houston license, but the state of Texas in May transferred regulation of TNCs from localities to the state. Assolin said official state permit decals for TNCs have not yet been issued, so it is possible for a legal state-registered TNC vehicle to not yet bear a sticker.
Assolin estimates the insurance claim will include medical, workmen’s comp, and the value of the Suburban. He bought the 2016 MY SUV for $53,000. Nikko’s 45-vehicle fleet is covered by Protective Insurance.
The accident follows a bad year for Nikko’s marked by a rash of fleet vehicle accidents in which all but one were the fault of the other driver, and most related to distracted driving, Assolin said. “We’ve probably had 10-15 accidents, which is scary when you think about it. We’ve been T-boned, sideswiped, and rear-ended. I see the rate of accidents going up everywhere. That’s the unfortunate reality. People are glued to phones, not paying attention while driving. It’s really incredible.”
As if a bad accident year weren’t enough, Nikko’s lost its entire headquarter facility last month due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The company’s converted suburban ranch house was inundated with four feet of water. Nikko’s had just completed $20,000 in remodeling before the flood.
“We knew we're in the flood plain because we’ve had water on the property several times over the years,” Assolin said. “We never thought it would get inside the building. We were expecting maybe 18 inches or two feet, not four feet. We’ve had to rip everything down to the studs. I don’t think we’ll move back there.”
The floodwater destroyed the company’s computer and electronics equipment, but fortunately all of its data and records have been stored in the cloud for the last seven years, Assolin said. Nikko’s, which has flood insurance, was able to move its vehicles to higher ground before the storm hit, and a core staff ran operations out of its Austin facility for one week after the storm. The company is now working out of temporary commercial offices in Houston.
“Business is back to normal,” Assolin said. “It’s more of an inconvenience than anything.”
It’s certainly not stopping Assolin. He plans on attending an industry convention in Orlando next month and the LCT-NLA East Show in Atlantic City Nov. 5-7. Amid all the stories about crashes and the flood, if he happens to talk about the need for stronger TNC insurance rules, you’ll know he can back up his point of view.
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