In May, Uber driver Adam (a pseudonym to protect against any backlash) received a message from the ride-hailing company: “Playing music is a great way to enhance a rider’s trip, but it’s helpful to remember that everyone has different tastes.” The note was an automated response to a passenger report — someone had complained about his EDM tunes and rated him with one star.
Adam was pissed. He’d made 4,000 trips over the last two years, often spending eight or nine hours a day in his car; doesn’t that give him the right to play what he likes?
Well, yes and no. Obviously Adam, like other Uber drivers, is in control of what he plays, but where he lacks autonomy is in how people rate him. Low ratings can be a death toll for drivers — fall below an arbitrary number (4.6 stars and below) and their account can be suspended. To reactivate after this happens, drivers are reportedly forced to pay $60 for an Uber sensitivity course. They also need to keep their ratings high to achieve or maintain Uber driver “diamond status,” which allows them to get paid up to 6% more per drive — Uber’s way of incentivizing drivers. To achieve diamond status, drivers must hit certain benchmarks, like a cancellation rate that stays under 4%.
Music taste is subjective of course, but Adam fell foul of one of the tenets followed by established drivers: When in doubt, go for top 40 or classic rock. Adam didn’t think it was fair that he had to change, but he switched stations. Sure enough, his rating soon went up.
That doesn’t surprise New York musicologist Jacob A. Cohen, who says that music enjoyment has been proven to affect customer satisfaction. Most research doesn’t focus on ridesharing in particular, but it stands to reason that satisfied riders would rate their drivers higher. So what’s the magical music formula? For the widest appeal, Cohen suggests, choose stable rhythms and stay away from loud or harsh vocals.
Some riders share their feedback immediately. In a private ridesharing group on Facebook, Uber driver Rachel says one passenger told her to play “normal music.” Another driver reports a Scrooge hating on his…