Driving in Guyana

When a client asks us to evaluate the risk profile of a given Latin American business operation, one of the most significant components is ground transportation of people.

A Baker Hughes HSE report put it simply: “Driving is the most serious risk any of us face each day.” Whether it be moving people around the Colombian countryside or to a Mexican factory in Sinaloa, we seek to understand the specific situation, present the risk, and recommend ways to minimize recordable incidents.

Getting in a car in Latin America generally requires more forethought than in the US. Guyana is no exception. The oil boom is coming, and so are the business travelers. In this edition of our Security News and Insights, we’ll look at the risk profile of travelling the roads in Guyana.

Safety Metrics

The country’s reputation for dangerous roads is supported by data. When measuring all Central & South American countries by road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles, Guyana ranks as most dangerous by a factor of four. As a point of comparison, it is safer to get into a vehicle in Egypt or Afghanistan than it is in Guyana. (Source: World Health Organization.)
Emergency response is also lacking. In Guyana, fewer than 11% of vehicle crash victims needing medical attention are transported to a medical facility by an ambulance. (Source.) Even war-torn Iraq, that figure approaches 50%.

From the Airport to Georgetown

Your time in Guyana will most often begin at one of two airports, followed by a nighttime ride to your hotel an hour away in Georgetown.

The Cheddi Jagan airport handles international long-haul flights. After you get though immigration and customs, you will first encounter a mass collection of all the drivers that are assigned or employed by international oil companies, the larger taxi firms who are meeting specific travelers, and free-agent drivers. Of this latter group, many are unlicensed but all are available for hire. Since flights from the US land after midnight, the trip into Georgetown is usually made in the dark and on poorly lit roads. It is not unusual for one’s airport transfer to coincide with night club patrons heading home for the night in their vehicles or walking on the narrow road shoulder.

With Cheddi Jagan situated far to the south of the capital, you should plan on 75-90 minutes’ travel time going north on the East Bank Public Road. Although this is one of the straighter and newer roads in the area, hazards abound. The lanes are poorly marked, privately-run minibuses (more on them later) usually go their fastest here, stray animals and livestock will sometimes cross the highway, and you’ll pass through the high-crime Agricola area.

Ogle Airport handles regional flights and is situated 15 minutes to the east of Georgetown. The terminal building is not lit as well as Cheddi Jagan. The ride to downtown passes numerous residential areas – which present their own challenges. There are few streetlights, potholes are more frequent and hidden after a rainstorm, domestic dogs and cats scavenge about, livestock graze on curbside grass, and the frequent passenger bus stops for traffic present heightened risks to all travelers. The road from the airport was also the site of a notorious February 8 motor vehicle accident that claimed the life of a prominent cyclist.

Cars and Roads

Guyana for many years has a high import duty on motor vehicles, which means that nearly all the cars are older and higher mileage. Guyana is a developing country and drivers generally don’t have the means for preventive maintenance or fresh tires. The aggregate condition of the country’s vehicles was so poor that in 2016 the government proposed a ban on the import of used tires.
Like many Caribbean countries, there are few road signs and markers. At 4:18 and 10:51 of this video you can see two typical intersections in Georgetown proper.

Taxi Services and Minibuses

Most major hotels have a relationship with an independent taxi firm. This relationship does not mean that the hotel takes responsibility for vehicle safety, inspections, hiring standards, or training. It instead only means that a taxi company pays a fee for the right to serve the hotel customers.

Drivers at these taxi companies generally are more sensitive to expat expectations: their music is not as loud and their vehicles are newer than the average.

That said, the government has no standardized cross departmental certification and inspection process for drivers and vehicle inspections. This creates incentives for evasion. Enforcement of the rules has its own particular and personal dynamic.

The most jarring and controversial vehicles on the road are the local minibuses. These are independently operated multi-passenger vehicles who pick up passengers on the side of the road on an ad hoc basis. As such, they are naturally incentivized to drive quickly and make abrupt stops. Responding to severe criticism by Guyanese who were fed up by the danger and behavior of the minibus drivers, the President of the United Minibus Union was in the news recently touting the recent training of over 250 drivers “in an effort to stamp out the lawlessness and reduce the carnage on the country’s roadways.”

Journey Management Considerations

A Journey Management program should protect traveling employees from general road hazards and risks idiosyncratic to a country or city. While Guyana does not have the overt threats of kidnap or carjackings present in some other oil and gas oil producing countries, the risk associated with ground transportation cannot be ignored by corporate security or HSE. Your colleagues must share the road with cars that would not pass a safety inspection in the United States or Europe, infrastructure is poor, and medical response capabilities are very deficient.

The principles of journey management require intelligence and data to drive decision making, training to elevate and standardize performance, quality control, and emergency response. None of these elements are present in the ground transportation industry or the public sector agencies.

We will be glad to discuss the most effective travel plans for your colleagues in Guyana.

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