“Traffic lights not working on the corner of…”

After a number of years living in South Africa I, like many, have come to realisation that traffic lights or ‘robots’ as they are locally known, don’t work as well as they should. Faulty signals take up a hefty portion of the daily radio traffic reports and are about as commonplace as the faithful pothole in and around Pretoria and Jo’burg. Many have come to accept that they are a part of everyday South African life…but then again, why should anyone just have to accept this? Lead SA! Taxes are there for a reason…as are the lights (in most instances!). Either stop the cowboys from installing them in the first instance, or fix them so that they don’t break as often.

Faulty signals have become more of a gripe for me over the past couple of months since my good friend Tshwane Municipality installed 2 new sets along a stretch of the R55 which I use on a daily basis. This brings the total number of sets to 5 on the 2kms of straight road from the highway off-ramp to my house. A lot of lights to get through – especially considering that two of these are faulty on a regular basis, whilst another refuses to stay working for anything over 24 hours. Non-operational traffic lights are relegated to a 4-ways stop; a nightmare during peak traffic periods along busy routes, where many drivers have the pull-away reaction times of a sloth (or can’t recognise their turn) and mini-bus taxis consider themselves exempt from the queuing system (I’ve almost T-boned several of the latter).

There are various sites on the ‘co.za’ web, emails and hotlines which you can use to alert the Municipality to faults, however I can imagine that people get bored of reporting the same culprits over and over and over again…yawn. If poor installations weren’t enough, ‘smart’ traffic lights i.e. those equipped with GPS devices, sim cards and modems to report faults have their innards raided by criminals who use the components to make unlimited free phone calls (presumably to their other criminal buddies). Traffic light poles and copper cables are also stolen to flog as scrap metal.

So what of the cowboy installs and repairs? Considering that Gauteng has an acute amount of lightning (and rain) during the summer season, you’d logically expect surge protection to be fitted as standard for the exposed electricals. In fact, this is a requirement of the SABS specification. Although I can’t substantiate with irrefutable evidence, I would say that many are lacking this protection due to a corner-cut scenario. Cables are also prone to drowning when ducts turns into a path of least resistance for the torrential rainwater.

It is guaranteed that after a storm many signals are left flashing red, or not working at all. It is then down to the local taxpayer to report faults (remember thieves have stolen the feedback equipment) and then hope that the Municipality sends someone to fix the problem (please note that ‘quickly’ doesn’t feature in this sentence). One of the signals along my route took 2 months to be repaired and then faulted again the following day, whilst another was stuck showing green and red simultaneously (it wasn’t even Christmas). Well done Tshwane!

If for nothing else, Gauteng (South African?) traffic lights serve to be expensive billboards for the local DSTV installer, garden services and/or pool repairman.


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