New: Google Live Traffic Updates in SA

When I read in last week’s Business Day that “Google has launched its live traffic coverage service in SA, an addition to Google maps which allows users to check the current traffic conditions in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria” I was ecstatic. Considering it is only available in 25 countries around the world, having South Africa (though for now only those three metropolitan areas) be one of them is pretty huge. And what better place to have live traffic info than Joburg, where there is never a shortage of traffic?

So when I had to take Zax to the orthodontist the very next day at 8:00 in the morning, the possibly worst time to have to be anywhere in Joburg, I decided to give it a try.

Anyone living in the Fourways area of Joburg will know that the debate, when trying to get to Rivonia, is always “Witkoppen or the highway.” Whenever I’m stuck on the highway and see cars whizzing by to the left of me I berate myself for not having taken Witkoppen. But on the days I take Witkoppen I’ll be sure as hell snaking along at one mile per hour when the highway traffic next to me is flowing ever so nicely.

Consulting Google Maps, it looked like Witkoppen was the way to go. Nothing red anywhere. It later occurred to me that there was nothing green anywhere either, and that this should have been a concern to me, but of course after shoving three kids and their collective lunch boxes out of the house, plus rousing another one from sleep and egging him on through his shower every five minutes and then being informed, when finally in the car, that he needed his house shirt for an outreach thing at school today and did I have any idea where it was, and then running upstairs again to find the shirt, let’s just say that I wasn’t in top form by the time I was looking at Google’s new live Joburg traffic coverage.

traffic in Johannesburg
Johannesburg traffic map using Google Maps

When we were finally enroute, we spent the first 10 minutes with me berating Zax for being 20 minutes late. Zax has a morning routine of leaving the house at the last possible second to still make it to school in time and of course trying to change his routine just once is as futile as getting any of my kids to put out their school uniform THE NIGHT BEFORE (more in THAT topic in my next post). Then we spent the next 10 minutes with Zax berating me for not having told him the night before that we needed to leave by seven. And you wonder why I call him Zax (Dr. Seuss will tell you why if you don’t already know). It was positively a good thing we were almost immediately stuck in heavy traffic on Witkoppen, just so we’d have time for all our arguments.Witkoppen was clearly NOT the way to go that day. I was practically parked for half an hour not making any progress, when I finally had enough and turned around. Google maps showed some heavy traffic on the highway but I could SEE the highway right next to me and it looked just fine.

The problem, however, was making it TO the highway. Getting back all the way where I had come from was no problem, but then I started all over again at the spot I had been at half an our earlier. Let’s just say that when I finally rolled into the orthodontists parking lot at 8:30 I was ready to punch someone.

In theory the Google traffic thing is really nifty. It takes all the location data it receives from people who are using Google Maps on their phones and measures the speed they’re progressing at. If it’s slow, then the traffic info reflects that with a big red line.

But in practice it doesn’t work so well. When you go online and look at the Joburg map, you will see that many roads are neither red nor green, meaning there probably isn’t enough data to supply Google with reliable info. So, people, please make sure you turn on Google Maps on your phones if you have it!

The other problem is this: So you check Google Maps and see that the route to work is jammed. But what now? Where are you going to go? Because sure as hell whatever alternate route you can think up will also be jammed. Your only salvation lies in doing it like the minibus taxis and passing illegally on the left. Or in not leaving the house at all.

So, for those of you moving to Johannesburg, I hate to disappoint, but traffic, well, sucks. There is no other way to put it. Just think of it as the one price you pay for living in a beautiful place. You can manage it by not scheduling your orthodontist appointments at 8:00 in the morning, or, better yet, by picking an orthodontist close to your home (as well as choosing your home in an area of Johannesburg close to school and work). Perhaps I can be forgiven for not going with the orthodontist in Fourways Mall, ever so conveniently close to our house, when after our first consultation she sent Jabulani to the dentist to have some teeth extracted, and the dentist regretfully informed us that those teeth she had specified were no longer in his mouth.

Although now I”m not so sure. Traffic versus teeth? At the thought of repeating this ordeal every three weeks or so, I’m perfectly willing to throw in a couple of my kids’ teeth in return for clear roads.

Note: A new orthodontist has since taken residence in Fourways Mall and I do not wish to discredit him in any way. For more information on dentists and orthodontists, read At Home in a New Country: The Dentist Test.

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