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!
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 http://www.facebook.com/#!/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