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County commissioners are right

by John F. Gaski
Publication: South Bend Tribune

November 20, 2007

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With the St. Joseph County commissioners revisiting the time zone issue, it is understandable why addressing this wound is essential.

During the 2005 time zone controversy, there was minimal substantive argument for placing St. Joseph County in the Eastern time zone. It was mostly about synchronicity with Elkhart. Because of the U.S. Department of Transportation's fixation to not consider moving Elkhart County to the Central zone, the outcome was contrived.

The fallacy of the DOT's 2006 decision to put our county on Eastern time is manifest: There is no chance of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties continuing in different time zones no matter which zone St. Joseph County is in because if we go Central time, Elkhart would promptly have to petition for reassignment to the Central zone. How do we know this? The Elkhart County
commissioners told us. They admitted they would petition for Central time if their economic data would dictate. The moment St. Joseph County is in the Central time zone, the case for Central time becomes overwhelming for Elkhart! This shows the way to harmonious resolution.

What if Elkhart County would not then seek Central time? That would discredit their argument that Elkhart County-St. Joseph County consistency is crucial, revealing their Eastern-for-St. Joseph County case as a hoax, and the DOT ruling as invalid. No way would those Elkhart commissioners do such a thing, right? Of course, Elkhart County is presently very content with our disadvantageous position as a buffer county on the fringe of an abnormal time zone.Then there is the moral issue. Eastern with daylight-saving time endangers children who have to wait in the morning darkness for the school bus. Support for Eastern DST in our region is therefore the moral equivalent of criminal recklessness. Do not believe that Eastern DST imposed on the wrong geography, such as here, does not jeopardize schoolchildren. The best evidence, a National Bureau of Standards study, says the contrary. The Department of Transportation, two years ago, misinterpreted that evidence. (The recent Tribune headline about DST enhancing safety is not germane because the research reported does not apply well to our time zone issue.) When the inevitable morning school day tragedy occurs, remember this.

But don't the economic arguments for Eastern time outweigh the other concerns? The DOT is guided by "convenience of commerce," after all. In reply:

1) The DOT acknowledges that "safety is the ... priority ... and we are committed to improving safety of school children."

2) The most vital commerce of all is between families and schools. The upshot is that the DOT erred in concluding that federal Order 13045, "Protection of Children from Safety Risks," does not apply to the Indiana time zone matter on the grounds of no economic significance. This negligence is basis for vacating the 2006 DOT Indiana Rule.

3) This may surprise readers, but the economics actually support Central time for Indiana.The simplest way to explain: When on Eastern time, the cumulative hourly difference between Indiana and other domestic time zones is three (Pacific), two (Mountain), one (Central), and zero (Eastern), for a total of six hours. If on Central time, the respective numbers are two plus one plus zero plus one equals four! Indiana business is aligned with commerce in the rest of the country better if in the Central zone.

The state Chamber of Commerce has touted the fact that 39 percent of Indiana exports are to the Eastern time zone, more than to any of the other three. So adjust the preceding set of numbers by zonal export volume, as shown:

We see that commerce-adjusted time differences still favor the Central zone for Indiana! More simply, if 39 percent of export trade is with Eastern, that means 61 percent goes to Central and points west. Also note that the economic center of gravity in this country keeps shifting westward, according to every U.S. census over the past 200 years. It makes a lot of sense to buck that trend, doesn't it?

The economic case for Eastern time in this region has been a fraud all along. Unless the invisible wall between St. Joseph County and the economic engine known as Chicago is taken down, South Bend could become a near ghost town. (The impediment naturally is worse now than when it prevailed only half the year.) Consider: The Chicago-South Bend nexus is the only case in the entire country of a medium-sized city separated by time zone boundary from a nearby metropolis to the west. What do they know that Indiana Republicans don't?

What about Michigan? Tellingly, there are approximately 3,000 linear miles of time zone boundaries across our country which are managed OK because of no large metro area near a border. We have managed temporal separation from Michigan pretty well, half of each year, for decades.Yes, some will be better off with Eastern time, but for our area generally there is a better way -- and only one way to put this issue to rest. As long as an irrational time zone subjugates our county, economic and political disequilibrium will persist.

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