A man walks past the robots that were cut down by unknown people who allegedly stole copper wires from the traffic lights in Wammerpam road. Picture: Sharon Seretlo

Durban -

The eThekwini Municipality is struggling to win the fight against traffic light vandalism and is forking out millions of rand each year to traffic signal companies for the repair and replacement of faulty or damaged robots.

The city said the majority of traffic light faults were caused by vandalism, particularly by street vendors wishing to cash in by manually directing traffic and collecting tips from motorists. It was a problem the city is trying hard to solve.

New “vandal-resistant pole covers” have failed to do the job as those responsible for tampering with the traffic lights are using crowbars to break them.

Municipal spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa said street vendors tampered with traffic lights, causing an electrical short, and then collected money from motorists driving through flashing-light intersections.

A particularly problematic intersection is Solomon Mah-langu Avenue (Edwin Swales Drive) and South Coast Road, one of the busiest in the country.

“We are in the process of procuring (new) vandal-resistant pole covers, and we urge motorists not to pay the informal traders doing points duty. We have metro police officers assisting us with enforcement,” Mthethwa said.

Although the municipality was unable to say how much the repair of vandalised traffic lights was costing, explaining that the information would take weeks to collate, its Medium-Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework for 2014/15 to 2016/17 indicated that R5.4 million had been budgeted for traffic signal maintenance, which would be shared equally between three traffic signal companies - for central, northern, and southern areas.

The contracts would run for the next two years.

In the city’s 2011/12 financial year report, four companies were contracted to carry out the “instalment and termination of underground cables and equipment associated with traffic signals”, which included the repair of vandalised traffic lights. The total paid was R6.12m.

In the city’s 2012/13 financial year report, vandalism was named as the “single greatest cause” of faulty traffic signals.

The urban traffic control branch, which manages traffic and the installation and maintenance of traffic signals in the municipal area, was, that year, in the process of procuring the vandal-resistant cover plates which have proved ineffective.

A traffic light technician explained that those tampering with the lights could cause all lights at an intersection to flash red by one of two means:

- By removing the protective cover at the base of the traffic light and connecting wires that should not touch, shorting the feed to the intersection.

- By unplugging a cable at the main traffic controller box at each intersection.

“They will do it at a main intersection where they can then direct traffic using a four-way stop. They collect money at the point the vehicles await their turn,” he said.

He said copper cable theft was also a contributor to faulty robots.

Another technician said vehicle accidents destroyed many traffic lights, which cost about R15 000 each to replace.

Last year the number of faulty traffic lights was exacerbated by a contested contract issue which resulted in a shortage of poles and cables.

However, Mthethwa said that issue had been resolved.

“We had an appeal on the new contracts to do maintenance on signals. But this has been resolved… Ordering stock is an ongoing process and we have no guarantee that this problem will not arise in the future again.

“The new stock will enable us to mend the broken robots,” he said.

- The Mercury