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Headache for Cape drivers as battery-powered traffic signals affected by Stage 4 load shedding

Cape Town – The City of Cape Town said that nearly 75% of signalised intersections on its road network is equipped with UPS systems, but they lack sufficient time to recharge when Eskom implements Stage 4 load shedding or above.

The City’s urban mobility directorate has over the years invested significantly in the acquisition and implementation of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems at signalised intersections on the road network to protect road users as much as possible from the impact of load shedding.

A total of 1 228 of the City’s 1 652 traffic signals are equipped with UPSs that are charged from mains power, and then power the signal when load shedding is implemented.

This means nearly 75% of signalised intersections across the whole city, regardless of whether it is within a City or Eskom supply area, can maintain operations during load shedding up to Stage 3.

In so doing, its ensures traffic flows, congestion is mitigated, and helps prevent road users from unnecessary stops at crime hotspots.

The directorate undertakes continuous maintenance and replacement of existing UPSs because of unit age, failures or vandalism and theft.

City Mayco member for urban mobility Rob Quintas said that in the past month they had replaced and repaired units at 120 signalised intersections.

“Unfortunately, when Eskom implements Stage 4 load shedding or above, the UPS batteries do not have sufficient time to recharge. This means that the batteries do not have enough stored power to keep the traffic signals operating throughout the next outage.

“We are busy upgrading our UPS systems with lithium battery technology to decrease the time they need to recharge, but an upgrade of all of the intersections across the road network is very expensive and will take a number of years to implement,” Quintas said.

“The City tries its utmost to limit the impact of load-shedding as far as it is within our control. Continuous interruptions in power supply shorten the lifespan of our infrastructure, and more importantly, it has a severe impact on residents’ commuting time.

“This is exacerbated by the theft and vandalism of the UPS systems by criminals who have no regard for their communities. To counter this phenomenon, we are now testing a pilot initiative where we bury these systems and our traffic signal equipment in underground safety chambers, as opposed to above ground where the equipment is an easy target.”

Quintas acknowledges that “it sounds like something from a sci-fi movie” but says that this is how far they now have to go to protect City infrastructure.

“I am pleading with residents to report incidents of vandalism and theft to the SAPS, or to our Transport Information Centre. Vandalism is not a victimless crime.

“Defective and damaged traffic signals add to the risk of collisions, potentially life-threatening delays for emergency vehicles and contribute to the frustrations experienced by commuters in grid-lock traffic,” Quintas said.

Road users are reminded to treat intersections as four-way stops when the signals are out, and to also report continuous outages to the City’s Transport Information Centre so that they can repair these as soon as possible.

Residents can contact the TIC on 0800 65 64 63; the TIC is available 24/7 for all transport-related enquiries and incident reporting.

Cape Argus