Pretoria traffic now worse than Cape Town and Joburg; data shows rush hours are returning

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  • Some South African commuters are now spending the equivalent of six full days a year in traffic jams, new traffic data shows.
  • Traditional rush hour traffic is now bouncing back in most cities - but the pandemic has shifted some trends.
  • Pretoria is now South Africa’s most congested city for 10km rush hour commutes, followed closely by Cape Town.
  • And Johannesburg has dropped to fifth place - below levels found in East London and Bloemfontein.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

South African road traffic is bouncing back from the days of the Covid-19 pandemic in all major cities - but it’s still some way off 2019 levels. And according to the latest traffic stats, Johannesburg commuters are doing better at avoiding congestion than in previous years, while Cape Town and Pretoria are fighting hard for the top spot of South Africa’s most congested city.

Each year, GPS company TomTom ranks traffic in 390 cities - including several in South Africa. It does so using "floating car data" that it collects from various sources, which it samples to create a global index.

The latest index puts the UK, India, Ireland, Japan, and Italy as the worst places to drive during rush hour, where an average one-way, 10km commute can take as long as 36 minutes.

South Africa fares slightly better, with our most congested cities shaving off about 15 minutes from the global records.

If you’re going on this metric alone, Pretoria is comfortably the worst South African city for rush-hour commuters. TomTom places Pretoria in 147th place globally - nine above the next highest South African city.

Pretoria commuters take an average of 16 minutes to travel just 10km, at an average speed of 32 km/h, according to TomTom. This translates into 145 hours, or six days, spent in rush hour per year - and is 40 seconds longer than the same journey would have taken in 2021.

Cape Town, consistently one of South Africa’s most congested cities, has slipped to second place nationally and 156th place globally. 

Capetonians take about 30 seconds less than Pretorians to commute 10km and spend about five and a half full days, or 132 hours, per year, sitting in traffic.

Cape Town blues

Although Cape Town is now languishing behind Pretoria as SA’s most congested city, it’s doing its best to reclaim the top spot. 

In 2022, Cape Town traffic increased by 1min 10s compared to 2021 - the most significant jump for any South African city. The nearest competitors for year-on-year increases were sitting around the 40-second mark.

Likely the most contestable conclusion from TomTom’s study is just how slow Johannesburg traffic has been to bounce back - possibly reflecting lingering work-from-home policies that are more liberal than elsewhere.

Historically, Johannesburg was Cape Town’s biggest traffic competitor in the index - but 2022’s traffic index claims it’s now in fifth place nationally, behind both East London and Bloemfontein.

On average, it takes Joburg commuters 13 minutes 40 seconds to complete a 10km journey. And residents there spend 123 hours per year in traffic - nearly one full day less per year than Pretoria and 13 hours less than Cape Town.

Durban has the lowest congestion levels of all the South African cities that TomTom measures. Commuters there take around 12min 20s to cover 10km and spend 112 hours in traffic annually.

Traffic still down from pre-pandemic days

Although all South African cities ranked in TomTom’s index have seen an increase in traffic since 2021, it appears as if there’s still some room to go before they return to 2019 levels.

In 2019, before work from home was a thing, Cape Town commuters spent 154 hours in traffic - 22 hours more than they did in 2022. And Joburgers now spend about 31 hours less in traffic than in 2019. 

However, Pretoria commuters are worse off - in 2019, they spent 131 hours per year in traffic. This climbed by 14 hours to 145 in 2022.

The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard agrees - mostly - that traffic levels weren’t back up to full pre-pandemic levels of 2019, but differs by how much. 

INRIX says that in 2022, Cape Town and Pretoria traffic was still down 35% from 2019 levels, and Johannesburg was down 17%.

Calculating petrol spend per year

Coupled with the above studies are estimations of how much money residents commuting in each major South African city are likely to spend on petrol yearly to get to and from work, thanks to congestion.

Although an inexact calculation, TomTom claims congestion during a 10km one-way commute in the city centre costs Pretoria petrol car drivers R1 267 per year, Cape Town drivers R985, Johannesburg drivers R1 285, and Durban drivers R1 018.

How South African traffic compares

The TomTom index only includes continental data from Egypt and South Africa - but claims that traffic in Cairo is significantly worse. There, commuters can spend up to 194 hours per year in rush hour.

Global commuters brave enough to get into their cars during rush hour are significantly worse off. Commuters spend the longest time in traffic per year in London, England (325 hours); Dublin, Ireland (277 hours); Bucharest, Romania (277 hours); and Bengaluru, India (260 hours).

And although most countries measured have seen traffic rebounding from pandemic days, some appear to be winning the war on rush hour congestion.

Turkey, for example, has cut commute times in four cities by up to 1min 40s, the highest of any measured in the study. And Hong Kong, Egypt, Belgium, France, and Australia have all seen significant reductions in some cities during rush hour commutes.

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