In Search of Potholes and Broken Robots

In Search of Potholes and Broken Robots

I recently spent close to two weeks in London. I had many reasons to be there, and one of these was to have a look at the condition of London’s roads, and the efficiency of its robots, or traffic lights.

My purpose was to see if Johannesburg is truly a world class city, as claimed in their ongoing advertising campaign, and what better way to test this assertion than to compare Johannesburg to a genuine world class city, in two key areas – the condition of its roads, and the performance of that vital traffic controller - robots. On comparison, Johannesburg is the far easier city to manage, as London has some 6 000 sets of traffic lights, whereas Johannesburg “only” has to worry about 2 125 sets of robots. Similarly, London has more kilometres of roads to maintain.

The week before I left for London, I took note of the robot situation in Johannesburg, and the situation was rather depressing. Taking a five kilometre radius around where our offices are, I was appalled to discover that working robots were in the minority, with at least 50% of the robots out of order. At peak times, the situation was ameliorated somewhat by the Outsurance pointsmen and pointswomen on duty, but during the day the poor motorists’ were left to their own devices, having to treat all the recalcitrant intersections as four way stop streets, with the concomitant traffic build up. Another massive source of frustration was the total disregard of the rules of the road by the taxi fraternity, and their refusal to observe the simple concepts of human decency and common courtesy. In addition, potholes were a constant menace everywhere you went in Johannesburg, with some areas particularly bad. For example, van Riebeeck Avenue in Edenvale was quite disgraceful and a serious threat to road safety and motor vehicles’ tyres and rims.

We landed in London, and we were met by our hosts, and taken to our destination, some 25 kilometres away, by car, so this was my first opportunity to observe the condition of the roads, and the efficiency of the traffic lights. The trip took about 45 minutes, with the busy roads adding time pressure, but the experience was truly surreal for a Johannesburg native, as despite keen observation, I could not find one pothole, nor could I find a single robot out of order. The surrealism turned to absolute incredulity over the next few days, with the same experience day after day. Close to perfect roads, and an incredibly efficient traffic light network. It was is if I had moved to another planet, let alone another country.

My astonishment turned into reflection. Why this massive difference in city management, and political will? The oft repeated excuses from the Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) about old infrastructure, and water damage from rain, just does not wash, excuse the pun, because have you noticed folks, London gets rain all year round, and it is two centuries old. Imagine if the JRA had to look after London’s road infrastructure, and it trotted out these ridiculous excuses. There would be riots on the streets, and a tax revolt within weeks, and there would be serious political consequences for those in power. This does not happen in South Africa, but one can dream.

The bottom line is that poor management at all levels of government, and the appointment of poorly qualified people across the spectrum, is like a cancer spreading through our economy, with the appalling value of the Rand being just one manifestation. The saying goes that in marketing perception is fact, but when it comes to road and robot maintenance, reality is perception. So to boast over and over again that Johannesburg is a world class African city, whilst the roads and robots are badly maintained, just does not cut it. The reality is that London is a world class European city, run by first world bureaucrats, whilst Johannesburg is an African class world city, run by third world buffoons. I’d love to say otherwise, but until they get the roads and robots right, and the long suffering Johannesburg motorist continues to take the punishment, reality is reality.

Add pic: When I took this pic in the district of Morden, in the borough of Merton, I was quite excited, as I thought that I had found the elusive broken robot. But alas, it was a maintenance team, ensuring that the traffic lights are in good order, so that they do not break down! An intriguing thought for the JRA to consider. Or is the word thought hyperbolic?

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