Why Is Cape Town Traffic So Bad?

Cape Town is the most congested city in South Africa, but why is traffic so bad? Who can we blame for this mess? More importantly - how can we learn to deal with it?
Jason Snyman
2018-08-08

Cape Town is the most congested city in South Africa. Yes, that's a fact. Many might suggest that Johannesburg traffic is equally brutal, but while Jozi ranks 70th in the world for worst traffic imaginable, Cape Town comes in at 45th. 

That's according to the Automobile Association, which sourced their information from KPMG South Africa and the TomTom Traffic Index from 2017.

Let's allow that to sink in for a minute. The Mother City ranks in the top 50 cities, in the entire world, with the most awful, unforgiving, soul-destroying traffic conditions. It could even be argued that Foreshore, at 5pm, could be classified as one of the deeper circles of hell.

But, why is traffic so bad? We've spoken about traffic at length, the science behind what causes gridlock, as well as the systems – elsewhere in the world – that actually work. Systems that South Africa lacks. 

Human idiocy shoulders much of the blame. Plus, you know, that mountain is apparently so darn distracting. But the Cape Town situation, in particular, seems to have come about as a result of a large amalgamation of problems.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons for Cape Town's woes.
 

Why Is Cape Town Traffic So Bad?

There's no such thing as a fast lane in Cape Town. All lanes move at an equally sluggish pace as commuters crawl their way into the Mother City, inch by inch, by one of the very few routes available.

Let's combine the lack of infrastructure with an overburdened train system, unremitting taxi strikes and the constant influx of tourism. Now let's pile on top of that, with a lack of traffic policing. Yes, the JMPD may be a little bit corrupt and a whole lot of annoying – but their overwhelming presence in Johannesburg keeps motorists on their toes, for the most part. In Cape Town, traffic officials are often hampered with conducting traffic through overcrowded intersections all day. Because, apparently, we just can't stop ourselves from causing mayhem. 

Unavoidably, we add the human element, where every single Capetonian driver behaves as if they're entitled to that piece of road. As if they're the greatest driver alive, and everybody else around them is a moron. 

There's a level of arrogance, and carelessness, about Capetonian motorists, and given the constant frustration they have to deal with, it's almost understandable. 

A recent social media poll by the Cape Argus asked fellow Capetonians why they thought traffic was so bad.
 

While only 14% of respondents blamed lack of traffic policing and 15% blamed bad road user habits, 29% blamed the lack of alternative routes and an overwhelming 42% blamed poor public transport.

These results make recent reports of Cape Town bus and train vandalism even harder to swallow. It tells us that something could be deeply, alarmingly wrong with the mentality of some people who exist right among us.
 

How Do We Beat The Traffic?

There isn't much that motorists can do about the behaviour of others or a lack of foresight from the government. If you're travelling between 6:30 – 9 AM or 4 – 6 PM, there's just no avoiding the chaos and confusion of Cape Town traffic. We can try to ease the agony, though, by offering a couple of tips.

  • Try to plan ahead and schedule your appointments or errands;
  • Find a different route. Sure, getting into the city itself limits you to only a small handful of roads, but there are a number of navigation apps, such as Waze, to help you steer clear of the heaviest congestion;
  • That said, it helps to keep an eye on traffic reports before you leave;
  • If possible and when available, use public transport;
  • Speak to your employer about working flexi time or working from home as much as possible. Many companies, in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, have adopted this policy in order to ease congestion and get the most out of their employees.
  • Consider alternative modes of transport, such as cycling or investing in a scooter or motorcycle. Or a Microlight. 
  • Make the drive more enjoyable by creating playlists of your favourite tunes, listening to audiobooks, learning new languages or catching up with your favourite podcasts. 

All jest aside, it's important to remember that we as motorists – wherever we are – have a responsibility to our fellow man. We need to understand that we have our own roles to play in the free flow of traffic, and that includes being patient, being thoughtful, being observant and for heaven's sake – stop slowing down to stare at accidents.