I came across a surprizing statistic the other day - it seems that Cape Town is South Africa's most congested city, and the third most congested city in Africa! Only Cairo in Egypt and Nairobi in Kenya are more congested (note that "congestion" in this story refers to vehicular traffic on public roads, ie. cars, buses and motorcycles). One would have thought that Johannesburg, South Africa's financial capital and economic powerhouse, would be worse - after all, the general perception of Cape Town (particularly by residents of Johannesburg or Pretoria) is that it's a sleepy, backward town inhabited by people who spend their lives at the beach or partying. I mean, nobody actually works in Cape Town, do they? So where is all this traffic coming from?
A company called Numbeo recently conducted a study of traffic in 165 major cities round the world, using information from a number of sources, and concluded that the most congested city on Earth is Mumbai in India. Cairo and Nairobi, Africa's worst two cities, are also second and third on the worldwide list behind Mumbai. This "traffic index" was derived from a combination of time consumed in traffic due to job commute, estimation of time consumption dissatisfaction, carbon dioxide usage estimation and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system. According to Numbeo's figures, Capetonians can expect to spend an extra 47 minutes sitting in traffic, while Pretoria drivers endure 43 added minutes and those from Johannesburg sit in their cars for 40 minutes longer than necessary.
These are sobering and depressing figures. Unfortunately they concur with the data collected by global GPS giant Tom Tom, which measures actual travel times between peak periods in comparison to the travel times during free flow periods and expresses the difference as a percentage increase in time spent travelling. Tom Tom's figures also show that traffic in Cape Town has become more gridlocked than any other city in South Africa.
So, contrary to popular opinion, I guess there are quite a lot of people in Cape Town who work. Or, more accurately, a lot of people who are sitting in congested traffic during peak hours in order to get somewhere for some reason - the office, school, university, gym or simply to go shopping. Who knows?
The sad reality is that this problem would be greatly diminished if many of these commuters simply took a train or bus rather than their car. Unfortunately that's not likely to happen because there exists a peculiarly South African attitude to public transport that more than 21 years of democracy has failed to eradicate (in fact, it has become worse since 1994) - most middle and upper class people in Cape Town would not take a train to work or elsewhere for any reason ; taking public transport is beneath them, and besides trains are unsafe, right? They would rather sit cocooned in the safety and security of their cars, despite the fact that far more people are killed and injured on the roads than are victims of crime on trains. Overt snobbishness is one of the less attractive character traits displayed by many middle and upper class Capetonians.
So if you live in Durban, Port Elizabeth or any other metropolitan area in South Africa, be grateful that your roads are relatively uncrowded and enjoy them while they still are ... I'm afraid the problem is only going to get worse.