Broken Robots in Joburg – a World Class City?

This is an update to my previous post where I mentioned the broken robot coming out from Dainfern onto William Nicol. It has been broken for over three weeks, and nothing has happened. Initially I assumed surely someone most have reported it and I just waited for it to be fixed. But no one has even shown up to direct traffic. What’s worse, it isn’t just broken, as seemingly happens to Joburg traffic lights after every rain, in which case such traffic lights revert to blinking, as they should, or sometimes they are completely turned off. In either case, drivers treat it as a four-way stop and it usually works fine. However, in this case, the traffic light is only HALF broken. It shows green on one side when it is out for the cross traffic, and vice versa. Plus, it isn’t an intersection that leads itself to be treated as a four-way stop, as one road is a main road with very fast traffic, a main artery between Joburg and Pretoria, whereas the other road is a small neighborhood road.

Green light to turn onto William Nicol
Now the light to turn onto William Nicol is out

I almost got hit by a car there yesterday. I was coming out from Dainfern and my light was out, so I waited. They say you shouldn’t text when driving, but since I was standing at the light, I sent a quick text to the person I was due to meet to say I might be late. Good thing I did, since I missed when my light turned green. When I looked up and saw that it was already green, I started to go, and could barely brake again when a car came barreling down the hill from the right, going through a light that was on “out” for that car. Had I started any earlier, I would have been squarely hit. I think my texting habit saved me that day!

I was fuming the rest of my trip as I was driving by posters left over from the World Cup proclaiming Joburg  a “World Class City.” What kind of a city, world class or otherwise, puts its citizens and visitors in such danger? Any other place we’ve lived (and we’ve lived in many!), there would be police directing traffic in any such situation, until such time (usually a few hours later) when a crew could come to fix the problem. I would even understand if it took a few days to get it sorted out, but why in the world not send someone who can just turn OFF the darn thing? Having one side show green while the other DOESN’T show red is a huge no-no in the world of traffic.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll surely know what’s coming next. Yes, I threw myself into the project of yet another complaint at a government agency! I called the City of Joburg at their Joburg Connect number of 011 375 5555. I didn’t get through the first two tries. When I finally reached them and pressed “5” (having glimpsed that vital information on their website so as not to have to wait through a lengthy menu of options), I got an extremely unhelpful person on the phone. This is approximately the conversation we had:

Me: Are you the right person to report a broken robot to?

Joburg Connect: Mhm.

Me: I’d like to report a robot that’s been broken for three weeks, on the corner of William Nicol and Broadacres. It is actually only half broken, showing green for one side and out for the other, which is extremely dangerous.

Joburg Connect: (silence)

Me: Hello? Did you hear what I just said?

Joburg Connect: Mam, my system is slow and if you’re going to be in such a hurry,  obviously I won’t be able to help you today.

Me: (silent, refraining from educating her on the virtues of saying things like “please hold while I check my system”)

Joburg Connect: What is your name?

Me: (stating name)

Joburg Connect: What is your phone number?

Me: (stating phone number)

Joburg Connect: Which area is the robot in?

Me: William Nicol corner Broadacres.

Joburg Connect: I can’t input street names, you’ll have to give me the area.

Me: The area is Dainfern.

Joburg Connect: There is no Dainfern in my system, give me another area.

Me: It’s close to Fourways, maybe you can try Fourways.

Joburg Connect: What extension is it?

Me: I have no idea, I’m in my car. Can you look that up?

Joburg Connect: Mam, my system requires me to input an extension number, without it I can’t help you.

Me: Broadacres Drive is directly North of Fourways, it should be easy to find…

Joburg Connect: (silence – she has hung up on me)

See what I mean? What kind of a city has a number to report faulty traffic lights, and then can’t locate these traffic lights on a map? Who would actually know the extension of a random area they’re driving through (extensions are some weird system anyway, it can be a pain to plug an address into your navigation system). Still, later that day I tracked down our extension number, so I called them again. Funny enough, now no one cared about the extension number. Stating the intersection in question was perfectly sufficient. I also didn’t have to give my name or number. Then I was put on hold without any other instructions, before I was cut off. I immediately called again, when, alas, I think I got the first representative I’d spoken to, and stated what had just happened. She seemed friendlier this time and proceeded to look up what had been logged in her system, and, after a long pause in which again I felt compelled to inquire if she was still there, I was informed that a complaint was logged ten minutes ago. Lo and behold, I’ve made it into their system! And, my favorite: a reference number! 8000301116, if anyone cares.

But, not willing to give up now, I asked what the further procedure would be, i.e. how long it would take to send out a repair crew. She had no idea, and when I asked for a supervisor, she told me he doesn’t take any calls (I know why!), and that I had to call the Johannesburg Roads Agency at 011 298 5000. I did, stated my case, and was put through to somebody at extension 0014… (the number was so many digits I lost track when writing it down; I’m not sure it actually exists anyway) who wasn’t there, so I left a message. Just to double check, I went to their website, which instructs to report broken robots to the Joburg Connect people I’d had above friendly chat with. Having come full circle, I decided to give up. Or not quite. My next stop is newspapers and radio stations.

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