News | Municipality Watchdog

By: Municipality Watchdog  11-11-2011

Response to street light complaints

Founder of the Municipality Watchdog, André Pieterse writes:

29 April 2011 | Sammi-Jo Botha


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Streetlight network infrastructure maintenance becomes the most challenged service to uphold over the last years.

The biggest threat to sustainable streetlight services is the growing vandalism to the network, whereby thieves steal the underground cable, the overhead bare copper conductor, the wiring on the inside of poles, the removing of the pole and light fittings completely and the stealing of all the control equipment within the streetlight control boxes.  This controller’s purpose is to switch the streetlights on during the night and off during the day.

When this controlling equipment gets stolen, the only interim method that is possible, is to connect the streetlight network directly to the electricity supply, without any switching controllers.

This results into a situation whereby the lights are working during the day and night, but at least during the interim it will be working during the night, until these controllers can be replaced.

The replacement cost of a new controlling installation is approximately R20 000. Thus the replacement of all streetlight controllers cannot be done without a prioritisation programme, due to the magnitude of the work, the material and equipment to be ordered, and the financial impact on the budget.

As if copper theft vandalism is not challenging enough, there is a growing tendency whereby streetlight fittings get shot by firearms, especially in the middle and high income community areas.   How is it possible that a person can complain about a faulty streetlight right in front of his/ her house when it has a bullet hole right through it and he or she did not hear the shot fired?

The municipality does not appreciate bullet holes in streetlight fittings, traffic signs such as stop signs, etc.  All these damages are affecting the dynamics of service delivery.

The streetlight repairs are presently done on a priority basis, and this enforces new challenges.

The priority programme is structured in such a manner that all wards and areas get equal attention to get the functionality of streetlights on the same level, on equally prioritised streets in all wards and areas.

 Therefore, not all streets in all areas can be done simultaneously.
Budget allocation is limited and only a prioritisation program will ensure that budget allocation will be optimised.  It would be wrong if funds are used to repair streetlights 100 per cent in some areas  and when budget allocation are exhausted other areas will be left in total darkness.  Therefore, streets are categorised in priorities, to ensure a fairness across all wards and areas.

Once all areas are repaired to a level whereby only single lights are faulty, then single lights will be prioritised and repaired on an equally and fair manner.  For example, those lights that are non-functional for the longest period will then be repaired first across all wards and areas, to ensure reasonable fairness among all wards and areas waiting for single light repairs.

The service provider does follow an inspection programme to identify faulty areas and streets to be prioritised for repair work. Again, many of these inspections are done in collaboration with the MMC Infrastructure, to ensure fairness among all areas.

As if other vandalism and other challenges are not challenging enough now, independent unique special requests are received from community members to achieve objectives beyond the purpose of road illumination.

The municipality cannot entertain each and every member of the community with its ever changing perception and unique needs of streetlights and/ or area lighting beyond the ability of normal street lighting.

Such requests will change the electricity load on the distribution cables and result in voltage drops and other technical problems that will later result in a total upgrading of the network cables and transformer capacity. The engineering environment is not too tolerant towards ad hoc changes to accommodate special requests that might look, from the layman’s view, as simple and easy, especially if the layman does not have to pay for his/ her special request, and such funding must come from the same limited general budget revenue portion.

How will the municipality give justification why some areas and some individuals must be privileged by accommodating them with special requests with extra funds from the same financial resources, which will cause that there will be less funds, proportional to others for their normal requests?

We trust that you will understand the predicament in so far as streetlight service provision is concern, and that we regret that such special requests are not normal industry practice, neither is it possible to introduce a policy to regulate special requests.

Repairs, maintenance and replacement will be done on a street priority manner, to achieve equity and fairness among all wards and areas and communities within the budget allocation.