Construction workers fix the robots that were cut down by copper wire thieves in Wemmer Pan road. The JRA is instituting measures to prevent such vandalism. Picture:Sharon Seretlo

Johannesburg - Embattled motorists may take the news with a pinch of salt, but the Johannesburg Roads Agency claims to be slowly but surely winning the war against out-of-service traffic lights.

Ageing equipment, power outages and damage through road accidents and vandalism have all ensured that keeping the city’s intersections running smoothly is a full-time job, but the JRA claims that 77 percent of inoperative traffic lights are now being fixed within 24 hours of being reported.

It’s the other 23 percent, which includes traffic lights that remain out of service for weeks or even months at a time, that has motorists angry and frustrated.

A regular traffic light malfunction is a quick repair, says Darryll Thomas, the head of Mobility and Freight at the JRA. However, non-working traffic lights due to stolen cables, accident damage and power outages take a lot longer to fix.

Vandalism is a major problem.

Thomas says about 70 traffic lights a month are damaged by thieves stealing copper cables or other traffic light components. Copper thieves sometimes cut down the poles or dig them out, using grinders to cut through the concrete the JRA puts in place to secure the traffic lights, to get to the underground cables.

In two particular intersections at Wemmer Pan, the poles have been pulled down 11 times this year.

Thieves also steal the solar panels and UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units which are supposed to keep traffic lights working when mains power is lost. CCTV cameras have been installed at certain intersections to try to thwart the thieves, but the JRA says it’s too expensive to do this at all of the city’s nearly 2200 traffic lights.

The JRA, with the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and City Power, has established an Infrastructure Protection Unit, which will be monitoring the vulnerable intersections in an attempt to combat vandalism and theft.

Alternative materials to copper are also being looked at, to reduce the attractiveness of cable theft.

As for the high incidence of traffic lights malfunctioning in rainy weather, the JRA is installing improved lightning and moisture prevention to combat the problem.

“We now have the budget to replace ageing cables and traffic signal controllers, and 95 percent of the old cables have been replaced,” claims Thomas.

In other measures to improve the traffic signal performance, technicians are receiving better training to reduce the human error factor in repairing signal faults and preventing recurring problems, while the operating period of the JRA’s traffic management centre is being extended from 12 to 18 hours a day to support fault reporting and repairs.


A remote monitoring system will be implemented for early detection and reporting of signal faults, meaning quicker response and repair.

As for the heavy reliance on traffic lights at major intersections, Thomas says the JRA has investigated the use of more traffic circles but these aren’t suitable for high traffic volumes.

Motorists can report damaged traffic lights, potholes and other issues at the click of a button via the recently launched JRA Find and Fix app (available free in your app store).

The JRA can also be reached at 0860 562 874 or by e-mail, on Facebook or via Twitter. - Star Motoring

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