Robots in Joburg – not as cool as Optimus Prime

So traffic lights are called robots here.  I love to adopt any term that has less syllables than the one that I am used to saying, but I still call these things lights, as robots are cool as hell and the traffic lights in Joburg are definitely not

I thought that we suffered in the UK with National Rail.  The trains famously don’t run if there is any kind of weather – sun makes them too hot, rain makes them too wet, snow and sleet ice them over, and don’t even get me started about leaves on the line.  Whenever the trains are not running in the UK there is mayhem, as we rely on public transport so much there.  When I lived in Kent, if my train wasn’t running then I couldn’t get into work.  I mean, I could have driven my car there, but the traffic would have been insane and the parking fee worse – £30 to park in some car parks in Canary Wharf for the day!

These are the lights near our old house in Canary Wharf. Luckily they were just for show. We think!

So I thought that the fact that South Africa is so reliant on people driving would make it much easier and reliable.  I thought that everything would work like clock work.  I didn’t factor in broken robots though (or potholes, but that’s a whole other blog post).  From the very first day that I arrived I have encountered at least one set of broken lights a day.  It seems that they go out of service at the drop of a hat.  They are especially bad after a big rain, which we get almost every day in the summer here in Jozi

The most annoying thing for me is that when the lights are out, the junction becomes a four way stop.  This basically means that one car from each point of the junction takes it in turn to go, and then the next car from the next exit of the junction goes.  It takes freaking ages to get across the junction to where you are going, as it is literally one car, one car, one car.  Bear in mind that most major junctions have 3 or 4 lanes for each exit.  There seems to be no rule as to who has right of way, and what order the exits go in.  I suppose it is supposed to be like a roundabout where you give way to the right (no one does) but I tend to just go when the car next to me does!  You do get used to reading the traffic quickly, and sometimes, if you are lucky, there is a traffic cop waving the traffic on so that the traffic flows more freely.  Just don’t get stressed out at the junction – if you are unsure who has the right of way, you will surely know it is your turn when the dude behind you starts beeping for you to go

Sometimes the light is flashing red, and sometimes it is completely out, but I am always more surprised when a set of lights are in service, rather than out.  It can take up to a week to fix them, but it’s usually a couple of days

You can check out!/TrafficJHB and @Jozitraffic on Twitter for traffic updates before you set off.  Sometimes your journey is going to take twice as long as usual, especially when you encounter lights out and a guy hand painting the white lines on the road in the middle of rush hour



6 thoughts on “Robots in Joburg – not as cool as Optimus Prime

  1. Surely you must admit that the four way stop system in South Africa is one of the most things – you’d expect broken robots to lead to a huge African-style chaos, but in fact most drivers respect the one by one rules (exceptions can be found in central Joburg’s afternoon rush hour). I guarantee that in many European countries broken lights would almost certainly lead to chaos. Here’s a fabulous photo of gridlock in Bucharest, where I once lived:
    I’ve also always been surprised at the orderly lines at the minibus taxi ranks in Joburg, one person behind the other, snaking down the pavement. Again, in Europe it’s more often than not a scrum to get on. Civilisation originated in Africa, after all.

  2. People in Jozi actually KNOW how to use a four way stop. If you encounter a broken set of robots in Durban, it’s basically whoever has the most guts to go will go first. It does amaze me how often the lights do go out but being South Africa, even if you account for every possible way to protect a set of robots from going out, we WILL find a way to break it 😉

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