Why you see flashing red on your drive to and from work

JRA says the effect of rainfall has been significantly reduced after cables and controllers were waterproofed.

FILE: Out of order traffic light. Picture: Siyabonga Sesant/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - As Johannesburg motorists battle wet roads and traffic lights that don't work, the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) says it's battling ongoing cable theft and accident damage, with a small budget and limited human resources.

The JRA today hosted a media walk through at the traffic light depot, accounting for the 2,135 traffic lights across the city that can experience up to 40 faults a day.

JRA's Darryl Thomas says technicians are dealing with repeated faults that can only be fixed within a certain time period.

Thomas says electrical faults can be fixed within 24 hours 90 percent of the time by technicians but some faults take longer.

DAMAGE TO TRAFFIC LIGHTS

JRA Acting Managing Director Mpho Kau says the agency has spent R12.7 million to repair and often replaced equipment on traffic lights over the past three years.

Thomas says the agency is reducing cable theft at traffic lights by lowering the street value of materials used.

Cables are being replaced with thinner copper wires and stronger plastic, making the cabled worthless to criminals.

Thomas said, "It's becoming hard for them to get material out of us."

But he says the cheaper, less attractive materials do not last as long and are vulnerable to rain, despite only four percent of the faults recorded in 2015, vandalism and theft can take up to 11 days to on average to repair which leaves the fault.

The JRA says traffic lights are also damaged in accidents - 81 poles are knocked over a month to be exact.

The cost to rebuild a traffic light, if it is completely damaged, sits a minimum of around R100,000 and can only happen within 30 days.

Thomas says where theft and damage has become a recurring problem, the JRA has had to make those intersections into four-way stops.

This will happen at least 30 intersections in the city.

Thomas says, "There is a reason the traffic lights were set up in the first place, to reduce traffic, but it's unsustainable to keep replacing stolen cables."

POWER OUTAGES AND WET WEATHER

The JRA says while there is constant communication with City Power and Eskom, power outages cause faults that take time to repair.

On average, faults caused by power outages take up to a week to repair.

Thomas says the JRA has Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers who work exclusively with the agency, who are deployed to direct traffic.

Thomas said, "They are on duty during outages, we also send the JMPD a list every morning of all the light outages where they are deployed to direct traffic."

The agency says the effects of wet weather have been significantly reduced as the majority of cabling and controllers have been waterproofed.

Thomas says the problem comes in when contractors remove soil around cables or damage the casing, allowing water to seep through.

"This is a problem in Sandton and the Johannesburg CBD where there is a lot of construction taking place. They might not hit our cable and they cover it up, but the soil has been disrupted and the water seeps through."

The JRA says it's also struggling to make ends meet, which won't affect maintenance, but does mean it has limited human resources like technicians.

FAULT REPORTING

The JRA says it is spending money on developing efficient methods of reporting faults and enabling quicker repair time.

Each set of traffic lights have a remote monitoring system that automatically detects faults.

But Thomas says the public must report any light outages and damage to road either on social media and to call centres, or on the free to download "Find & Fix app".

THE NUMBERS

There are 2,135 traffic lights in Johannesburg with 900,000 km of cable.

In 2015, 74 percent of the traffic lights had at least one fault

  • Of which 26 percent of the reported faults were false alarms

  • 21 percent of faults were due to power faults

  • 20 percent of the lights flashed red

  • Seven percent was due to poles being knocked over in accidents

  • Four percent of the faults were caused by vandalism and theft

In the 2014/2015 financial year, there were 420 reported cases of theft or vandalism

In 2015/ 2016 financial year so far, there have been 341 cases of theft.

Zero the number of convictions

Primary hotspots for faults: Sandton and Johannesburg CBD.