To say that Terry Ohlsson is passionate about the motor coach industry would be an understatement. After owning a successful motor coach company, Ohlsson dedicated the last decade of his working life to auditing to give back to the industry. The Auditor spoke to Ohlsson just before his retirement to learn what it’s really like to audit motor coach operators in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW).
In 1993, Ohlsson was seeking a career change when the opportunity to purchase a small motor coach company came up. This led to the creation of Red Carpet Tours, which Ohlsson grew from one coach to one of the biggest operators in the Hunter region.
In 2005, Ohlsson made the decision to sell the business and retire. However, after a year, Ohlsson was approached by another operator who encouraged him to enrol in an auditor course. As auditing in the motor coach industry is not a full time responsibility, Ohlsson said he thought about the opportunity “for a good hour.”
“I thought this is a good way to stay in touch with a lot of colleagues we have made over the years and do something constructive,” Ohlsson says.
Helped largely by his experience as a coach operator, Ohlsson completed more than 500 audits and was quite well known in the industry.
“Operators face different problems according to their size and I think they were happy to have an auditor who had been an operator and understood the problems from an operator’s point of view.
“Seeing how they all operate, and understanding what the problems are, and seeing new ways of dealing with problems—it’s fascinating.”
Throughout his auditing career, Ohlsson worked closely with government transport agency Roads & Maritime Services (RMS). Ohlsson says that to understand motor coach auditing, you first need to understand the relationship between the RMS and the operator.
“When you are an operator and facing an audit by the RMS, there is a certain amount of tension involved,” Ohlsson says. “I have an obligation to that operator to make him/her feel relaxed, more comfortable with the process of being accredited, and to understand the reasons for the audit.”
However, Ohlsson acknowledges that meeting the tightening guidelines set by the RMS can be challenging at times.
“Much of [the detail] is largely irrelevant for the safe operation of a coach, and that is what this whole process of auditing was designed to do,” he explains. “Anything that insures safety is good, but there are a lot of things that have nothing to do with safety, and these can confuse and irritate an operator, particularly the many one man operations and those that have English as a second language.
“The auditee needs to understand that the process is designed to make them and the industry safer. The RMS is not the enemy. I encourage them to feel free to ask questions and approach the RMS wherever they are in doubt. I also encourage them to seek advice from other operators.”
Reflecting on his career, Ohlsson lists auditing State Transit twice as one of the highlights.
“They are the biggest operator in the country and are one of the best run operations in the state,” he says. “They have over 2,000 vehicles, 13 depots, and it’s a big thing to audit. Getting to see the inside of how State Transit works was very impressive.”
However, working in an industry such as transport has its challenges—mainly in regards to continual changes in legislation and procedures. With a new auditing form on the horizon, Ohlsson was given the privilege of piloting it before its release.
“I’ve helped to pilot a new audit form in the last few months which is precursor of the changes to come, and to report back to the RMS,” he says. “I was one of two auditors selected and to trial the new form, which asks different questions and has more detail in certain areas.”
Ohlsson says the biggest challenge not only for auditors, but the transport industry as a whole, is the differences in regulations between Australian states and territories.
“Every state should have the same regulations,” he says. “Buses go interstate. We are one country. Why are we following different rules and regulations? It’s unproductive and not in the interests of safety.
“For example, operators accredited in one state could opt to have their coaches registered in another state because it’s a quarter of the cost.
Safety requirements cannot change just because a vehicle crosses a state border. While the NSW state regulations are the most severe, I’m not advocating that everyone has to adopt the NSW principles. I’m saying let’s all adopt a new one, and the sooner the better.”
Despite entering retirement, Ohlsson will not walk away from the industry completely, and will still be available as a driver authority trainer.
“I have a lot a lot of experience in this industry and there will be a lot of operators who may want to take advantage of that,” Ohlsson says. “Now I am no longer an auditor, I can offer advice and help without affecting the audit process. Whilst my knowledge remains relatively current, I can send people to the right place to find the right information.”