Why not a single time zone?

Without reuniting Indiana into a single time zone, many see the switch to daylight-saving time as an incomplete and hollow achievement. Last week’s approval of less than half of the petitioning counties by the federal Department of Transportation need not be the underwhelming anticlimax of the past year’s political drama.

With encouragement from the voters, our legislators still have adequate time to send a bill over to the other house by Feb. 2, moving us closer to a single time zone. There are several active bills from which to choose. My personal favorite is SB 79, which has bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate.

With this action, the legislators and the DOT would end an unfortunate 45 years of Hoosier neighbors in different time zones, and also substantially reduce the continuing confusion as companies outside the state deal with Hoosier businesses in different time zones from one another. Numerous comments at the DOT docket, as well as many who spoke at the hearings, express the fervent desire of many Hoosiers to see the entire state once again unified on a single time.

If the legislature and the governor had deliberately undertaken to keep Indiana in two time zones, they could hardly have designed a more effective approach than encouraging the DOT to leave the decision-making with individual counties. In fact, in its ruling last week, the DOT as much as says that it would have considered a statewide proposal had the legislature or the governor simply asked.

A decentralized process like this was almost guaranteed to be piecemeal. We saw exactly this result last fall — nobody wanted to risk asking to be an “island” in the midst of neighboring counties in a different zone. About 36 counties lie one county or less from the present time boundary. Of the 26 or so of these on Eastern time, about two-thirds petitioned to join the 10 counties already on Central, but none of those already on Central petitioned to go to Eastern.

Unlike Indiana, which lies entirely within the natural borders of Central time, Ohio is split down the middle by the natural boundary (821/2° longitude) between Eastern and Central. Ohio residents long ago saw the benefit of shifting this boundary to their state border in order to be unified in a single zone. Indiana could just as easily be reunified with a similar shift of the current boundary back to our border.

Ohio is 1.5 times wider than Indiana and yet resides in a single zone. In addition to Indiana there are about 12 other states split across time zones. Except for Alaska, which is 15 times wider than Indiana, the remaining 11 all range from 2 to 5 times wider than Indiana — more than 3 times wider on average. Given the many potential benefits, I see no compelling argument why a relatively narrow state like ours should not be restored to a single zone as well.

For several decades, Hoosiers were relatively content with the status quo of 45 minutes or so of year-round daylight-saving time. For the sake of hoped-for substantial additional business growth, we have now joined the rest of the country on DST. There are many arguments for which a statewide time zone would serve us better. If maintaining the previous status quo as nearly as possible were a significant criterion, then Central time would be the obvious choice.

With 10 counties on year-round Central time, five on year-round Eastern, and the remaining 77 with Central for seven months and Eastern for five months, a simple weighted average shows that Indiana was with Central time about 60 percent of the year and with Eastern about 40 percent.

For over four decades after the U.S. formally adopted time zones in 1918, Indiana residents enjoyed the benefits of a single statewide time zone. The only effective alternative to a piecemeal, drawn-out approach to unifying Indiana's time again requires courageous and visionary leadership by state government. With Indiana citizens encouraging such a proactive resolution by the General Assembly this month, we could likely enjoy a single time zone again within the next 12 months.

Bill Starr

Columbus, Ind.

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