Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: State proposal to ditch time change a nonstarter, thankfully

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LENOX >> This flew under the radar for many people. Massachusetts is taking a serious look at making Daylight Saving Time permanent, 12 months a year.

Such a move would eliminate the annual "fall back" in November and "spring forward" in March. It would, in effect, put the state on Atlantic Standard Time — the same zone as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, most of Labrador, far eastern Quebec, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and many Caribbean islands.

On Atlantic Time, we'd wind up with more sunlight at the end of the day from November to March, a tradeoff from dark skies well into the morning hours.

The proposal to study the idea was deeply embedded, virtually hidden, in the $1 billion economic development bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed on Aug. 10, State House News Service reported.

A bipartisan commission will study the impact of permanently shifting the Bay State one hour forward for the entire year, instead of from the second Sunday of March until the first Sunday in November. In other words, Eastern Daylight Time, the same as Atlantic Standard Time, all year round.

Before you start cheering, hang on. If this were to happen, and I give it about as much chance as a snowfall on Labor Day, we'd have sunrise in the Berkshires between 6:15 and 7:15 a.m. during the summer months, and sunset between 8 p.m. and 9:36 p.m.

Sound good? Here's what we'd "enjoy" from December to February. Sunrise as late as 8:28 a.m. in the dead of winter. Students would be awaiting their buses or riding in cars in total darkness for weeks on end. Walk or ride a bike to school? No way.

Whose brilliant idea was this? Quincy public health advocate Tom Emswiler, who has been complaining about the early winter sunsets (at 4:12 p.m.) in Eastern Massachusetts ever since he moved to the area from Virginia five years ago.

"I just think it's miserable when the sun sets at 4 o'clock," he told the Boston Globe. "On a cloudy day, it starts getting dark at 3:50-something." He went public with his notion in a Globe op-ed column two years ago.

He marshaled a few arguments, including unverified evidence that the one-hour loss of sleep when clocks are set forward in March causes a spike in the auto accident rate. He claimed that more daylight during winter afternoons would help the state attract and keep young professionals. Emswiler suggested a later start to the school day so kids could get more sleep and not travel in darkness — actually a good idea but fraught with complications.

He touted his column as resonating well with readers: "Just about everyone I talked to, at least in Greater Boston, asks me: 'Why is this even an issue? Why can't we just say yes and flip the switch?' "

So he asked his state senator, John Keenan of Quincy, to pursue the idea of a commission to study the concept. Suddenly, without warning, the commission proposal appeared in the Senate leadership's version of the economic development bill, survived House-Senate negotiations and did not cause Gov. Baker to lift his veto pen, the Globe reported.

Especially for us in the Berkshires, this is a cockamamie idea. New York, Vermont and Connecticut, our bordering states, would be in a different time zone four months of the year. So would New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine. Bus, train and plane schedules in Massachusetts would be thrown into a tizzy.

Under the proposed switch, Massachusetts would be the first state in the nation to have what amounts to permanent "daylight" time. Two states, Arizona and Hawaii, went the other way and have permanent "standard" time — meaning they don't move clocks forward. In California, the Legislature is currently debating a bill to join in eliminating daylight time. If it sounds confusing, it is.

But the good news is that this would go nowhere without approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, where I can imagine officials guffawing at the very notion of Massachusetts "seceding" from the Eastern time zone from November to March. "Massachusetts Standard Time" would be a non-starter.

Even Emswiler, undoubtedly a well-intentioned fellow, realizes that his brainstorm would fizzle unless the entire region united to set up a New England or Northeast Time Zone.

Fortunately, our very level-headed governor is having none of this scheme.

"I think the time zones we have are fine and they've been fine for a very long time," he told reporters. "I especially worry that if we head too far down this road we could end up creating a lot of problems for ourselves with respect to all sorts of issues around work schedules, commuting schedules and a whole bunch of other things."

Let us know how you feel, but to my mind, this is an idea whose time definitely has not come, nor should it. Ever.

Contact Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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