The average person living in a big city can spend up to four months of their life sitting, waiting and wishing in traffic. This is becoming ever truer in downtown Johannesburg and its surrounding metropolitan business hubs, particularly Sandton.

The influx of people to the big city over the past few years has seen the dark, looming shadow of traffic grow exponentially until, at times, becoming nearly unmanageable, especially when load shedding knocks out power to Sandton’s traffic systems, for over a month as in December 2015, bringing traffic to a literal standstill.

Growing traffic congestion has serious economic consequences for fast growing cities, but the most concerning effects of gridlock is on the individual. According to the latest traffic index report – released annually by TomTom, a global leader in satellite navigation technology – more than 40% of South African employees are late for work due to traffic congestion. Johannesburg is currently ranked as the 77th most congested city in the world, and climbing steadily.


“There are many factors that contribute to traffic congestion in South Africa, a poor public transport is one of them.”

– General Manager of TomTom Africa, Etienne Louw

This was solemnly acknowledged by Johannesburg mayor, Parks Tau, at the Ecomobility Festival in October last year. For the month of October, roads in the commercial hub of Sandton were closed off to private vehicles, for the purpose of promoting the use of public transport and getting the public to experience a version of Sandton without all of the congestion, noise and smog.

The soaring number of cars moving in and out of Sandton every day contributes enormously to the city’s CO2 emissions, and the gridlock experienced during rush hour is costing the country a huge amount of money each year, as noted by mayor Tau during the festival.

“As it stands, the economic impact that results from congestion in the whole of South Africa is over one billion rand (each year), and Johannesburg accounts for the highest loss with more than 1.5 million vehicles registered across the metropolitan. Those numbers aren’t looking to drop anytime soon; commuters in Sandton are rising by 3,4% annually. Currently, the picture of traffic in the precinct is a very gloomy one. On a daily basis between 07:30 and 08:30 – almost 150 000 people move in and out of Sandton. The scary part is that 70% of the vehicles coming in and out are private.”

– City of Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Cllr. Mpho Parks Tau

Gridlock is a global problem affecting every major metropole in the world. The obvious long term solution is the development of a fully integrated public transport system, but as this will take time the motor industry is looking to technological development to help alleviate the rising surge of global traffic.

This topic was covered extensively at the TED conference in March 2011, by Bill Ford, in his talk titled “A Future Beyond Global Traffic Gridlock.” In his talk, Ford reveals some shocking figures about the rate at which the numbers of cars are increasing in cities around the world, and the cost of Gridlock to the economy and the individual.


“Today, there are about 800 million cars on the road worldwide. But with more people and greater prosperity around the world, that number is going to grow to between two and four billion cars by mid-century. And this is going to create the kind of global gridlock that the world has never seen before.”

– Bill Ford

When considering how to navigate around the problem facing us, Ford notes that more of the same will not do and that we are going to have to, very quickly, begin developing technology to help us manage traffic flow in big cities.


“We are going to build smart cars, but we also need to build smart roads, smart parking, smart public transportation systems and more. We don’t want to waste our time sitting in traffic, sitting at tollbooths or looking for parking spots. We need an integrated system that uses real time data to optimize personal mobility on a massive scale without hassle or compromises for travellers.”

– Bill Ford

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