NORTH AMERICAN TIME ZONE REVISION
New Time Zones for a New Century
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By R.A. Demarchi
How North America can increase its unity, its security and its productivity by reducing the number of time zones:
Would North Americans-Americans, Canadians and Mexicans in the North American Free Trade Zone- be better off with one less time zone? Reducing the number of time zones from six to five would nearly double the amount of time that North Americans could communicate directly with each other across the Continent. Increasing the synchrony of our existing time zones would enhance communication between both government and non-government organizations and individuals, which has the potential of immeasurably improving our security and our productivity.
It would also reduce jet lag experienced by anyone traveling by airplane across two or more time zones including both airline passengers and crews.
Most of us take time zones for granted and accept them as inevitable except when we cross from one to another in our travels or for our twice yearly ritual when we are told to reset our clocks and watches by an hour (as in "spring ahead" and "fall back"). The recent decision by the US Department of Transportation to extend daylight saving time by two weeks in the spring and one week in the fall stirred some discussion and debate but most people accepted the federal government's decision without protest. Canada and Mexico were not consulted on the matter, and are followed the US initiative as well. We have just accepted the fact that because the earth rotates on its axis once daily and because the differential between day and night varies with the seasons, that the time zones we now use are the best we can devise. We seem to have also accepted the US government's claim that beginning in April, 2007, extending the period of Daylight Saving Time three weeks to a month longer would benefit the country from the energy we will save by making greater use of the "saved" daylight.
Wait a minute! Besides being unmeasurable, the energy saving is questionable. With a claim of energy savings of only one percent, based on studies conducted following the energy crisis of the early 1970s, is it any wonder that Daylight Saving Time is still a much debated topic? Besides, who said we had to accept without question the need for six time zones in the USA and six in Canada (counting of course the half time zone adopted by Newfoundland?
What about the Chinese and their single time zone for a country slightly wider than the contiguous USA? Or India's amalgamation of two full time zones into a single zone encompassing the entire country? These examples alone should cause us to pause and consider whether we could make better sense of this business of time zones.
Our time zones are an artifact from an earlier age, created prior to the invention and use of electricity. They came into force well before urban street and residential electrical lighting or battery-powered flashlights and bicycle lights.
They were adopted long before automobiles with their 75 thousand candlepower headlights. They were enacted into law fifty years before long distance telephone calls, 75 years before television with its live national sports broadcasts, early morning news and late night talk shows and more than 100 years before email and the Internet.
Prior to the construction of the national railroads there was a myriad of local times in use throughout the Continent based on the sun's actual noon apex at any given location. It was the national railroads' need for coordinating their departure and arrival schedules that prompted the move to create a universal method of keeping time. When Sir Sanford Fleming was devising standard time in the early 1880s a proposal was put forward whereby the contiguous USA would be divided into two time zones.
The International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. however, adopted Universal Standard Time as the international standard on January 1, 1885. It was based on the 15 degrees of longitude rule which was developed by dividing the earth's 360 degrees of longitude by 24 hours. This action established four time zones for the contiguous USA and five for Canada and eliminated forever the chaos of recognizing only local solar time.
There is no reason to accept without question that because the earth has been divided into 24 time zones that we need every one of these time zones. North America just as easily could have been divided into a dozen separate zones if instead of the one-hour increments used, half-hour increments had been adopted.
These time zones were developed before the world emerged into the modern age. With each passing decade more of us adopt an urban lifestyle and our activities are no longer bound by daylight and dark. Our work days are no longer dictated to by the diurnal or seasonal rhythms of crops or livestock. Farmers no longer find their way after dusk with coal oil lamps on their walk back to darkened farmhouses from dark equipment sheds or barns.
Nowadays, practically every barn, farmyard and farmhouse, as most city streets and all houses, shops and offices are fully illuminated by electric lights. Today's laying hens and milk cows are regulated by artificial light and fed by automatic feeders. And with online banking and bill paying and seven day, extended hour shopping there is a reduced need for rural folks to rush to finish their day's work in order to get into town before the stores, banks or other financial institutions close.
Perhaps some people worry that our lives would be disrupted if we were to change these zones in any substantial way. The recent Williams County, Kentucky debate about which official time zone it should observe is a recent example of some folks' resistance to change. Much of the state was originally in the Central Time Zone. Over the years, numerous cities and counties in Kentucky adopted Eastern Standard Time leaving many people in Williams County feeling somewhat isolated.
Some of the residents of Williams County resisted seeing the county join the "faster" time zone to the east. The proponents of the change presented convincing arguments at public hearings however, that there were strong social and economic reasons such as the location of jobs and services which favored them being located in the Eastern Time Zone. A decision was made to adjust the Eastern Time Zone boundary to include the Williams County on October 29th, 2000, one of the very few times in recent years that such a change has been made.
The Williams County decision, like all time zone decisions in the USA was made by the US Department of Transportation and approved by the US Congress. This agency has the mandate to make such changes in consideration of the effects any boundary change would have on local and regional economies, especially transportation and communication. In Canada, time zones are regulated by provincial and territorial governments whereas in Mexico, time zones are regulated by the federal parliament and courts.
There are many reasons that time zones affect the productivity of North Americans. One clear example concerns the vast majority of taxpayers. The public expect their governments to be as efficient as possible with their money. But consider this: How can the government service possibly be efficient when there are only 45 minutes out of each seven and a half hour government working day that offices in all four time zones are working concurrently? Out of that same workday, a person in a government office in Washington, DC or Ottawa, Ontario has a maximum of two hours and thirty minutes in which to contact a colleague in any office in the Pacific Time Zone discounting lunch or coffee breaks!
When a federal employee arrives at work at 8:30 AM EST in Boston Massachuesetts it is 7:30 AM CST in Birmingham, Alabama and Houston Texas, 6:30 AM MST in Denver, Colorado and Boise, Idaho and 5:30 AM PST in San Diego, California and Yakima, Washington. Office workers and business people in the Silicon Valley or Puget Sound are already out of bed, getting ready to commute to their offices where they will arrive by 6:30 AM PST just in time to hear the opening bell on the NYSE. Although the Internet and email have largely replaced the telephone for most routine communications and business transactions teleconferencing and webconferences- indeed all time senstive issues still require that participants all be available during the sametime period, however.
There are many other examples of countries that have chosen to deviate from the standard time zones. Russia, which recently reduced its time zones from eleven to nine has also recently settled the debate over standard versus daylight saving time by adopting permanent daylight saving time for all nine of its revised time zones.
India which straddles two complete time zones has adopted the so called half-hour solution and averages its two time zones into one time zone, 5.5 hours ahead of Universal Coordinated Time (abbreviated as UTC). Australia uses three time zones - its Central Time Zone is a half-hour ahead of its designated standard time. Australia also divides the Central Time Zone into north and south segments for the purposes of Daylight saving time. Several other countries in the Middle East including Afghanistan and Iran also utilize half-hour time zones.
Another interesting example of what people are prepared to accept is presented by Chile which utilizes the time zone to the east of its designated standard time. It then adopts daylight saving time for an extended period each spring and summer placing it a full two hours ahead of its designated standard time. During WWII, in an effort to conserve energy for the war effort, England adopted double daylight saving time-two hours ahead of UTC which was then known as Greenwich Mean Time.
Take a virtual visit to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and see the laser beam down the First Meridian. Allow it time to load.
If China which is slightly wider than the contiguous USA and spans four time zones can exist on one time zone and if India has learned to adapt to a single time zone instead of two, surely we North Americans could modernize our system of keeping time by eliminating one of our several time zones. Public discussion and serious consideration by governments should be given to the proposal: That the contiguous USA and Canada west of the Atlantic Time Zone be reduced to three time zones from four.
There are at least two ways that this could be accomplished. One solution can be found in the way that India and the Canadian province of Newfoundland keep time. We simply need to shift the western boundary of each of the Eastern, Central and Mountain Time Zones progressively westward by five degrees of longitude. This would absorb one complete time zone and would create three new time zones, each 20 degrees wide instead of the current 15 degrees. All that would be needed then would be for the revised eastern time zones to retard their clocks one half hour and for the revised western time zones to advance theirs one half hour and viola! An entire time zone would disappear with a minimum of disruption.
Another method which requires full one hour shift forward by all time zones west of the Mountain Time Zone and which was first recommended by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce in 1921 would be to amalgamate the Pacific Time Zone with most of the Mountain Time Zone to create a single New Western Time Zone. This would require that the present Pacific Time Zone would adopt the one-hour advanced time of the Mountain Time Zone. It would also require that the Alaska and the Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zones be advanced one hour as is done for daylight saving time presently, only it would be year 'round.
North America is geographically better suited to north-south commerce than it is to east-west commerce, yet as a result of its political history, the continent was divided into three east-west oriented countries-Canada, USA and Mexico. The geography of North America is characterized by the north-south oriented Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, the presence of a great north-south oriented navigable river system -the Mississippi and the great physical east-west barriers presented by the Continental Divide and the frozen Arctic Ocean.
These factors plus a three to four hour time differential from east to west have historically resulted in communication and transportation difficulties, particularly for Canada and the USA leading to the phenomenon referred to as western alienation. The consolidation of the existing four primary time zones into three new time zones would bring all regions of both countries closer together and could possibly do more good for Canadian and American unity respectively, than any other single act.
Having more government employees working simultaneously would not only increase the efficiency of government agencies it could also potentially enhance national security. If all three NAFTA nations adopt the revised time zones, national security efforts could be enhanced in all three jurisdictions by increasing the number of hours that service employees such as firemen, policemen, and border patrolmen are on-duty simultaneously during the regular three eight-hour or two twelve-hour work shifts. Planning and coordinating daily and long term activities, including responses to regional, state or national emergencies could potentially be improved by the one hour net increase in communication time across the USA and Canada.
Many states and provinces are currently divided into two or more time zones, which is highly disruptive and inefficient for statewide communications, particularly in the government service. States such as North and South Dakota, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, and Tennessee for example are separated into two time zones. Even parts of three eastern counties in Alabama utilize Eastern Time instead of the state's official Central Time. The province of British Columbia includes three time zones when Daylight Saving Time is taken into account and two time zones when on standard time resulting in reduced productivity and confusion for many of its residents. Adoption of the proposed three new time zones plus some slight realignment of current time zone boundaries would conveniently result in all 48 conterminous US states being unified into single time zones.
Reducing the number of time zones across North America even by a single zone would greatly assist someone trying to reach a family member in another time zone for an urgent matter, or just to make friendly contact in that extra hour. A person arriving home from work at 6:00 PM in San Francisco or Portland or Vancouver who wants to contact a relative in the East has to get on the phone as soon as they arrive home without time to relax or else chance getting their party out of bed if they go to bed and rise early.
The New York Stock Exchange, the largest security exchange market in the world delays its daily opening to 9:30 AM partly because stock brokers in the west have got to get out of bed at 5:00 or 5:30 just to get to work at 6:30 AM PST in time for the opening bell of the NYSE. This is true for the NASDAQ and most other security exchanges in the Eastern Time Zone. These exchanges then close at 4:00 PM EST which is 1:00 PM on the west coast. Shifting official time back one half hour in the East and one half hour forward in the West would create a situation where the New York Stock Exchange could open at 9:00 AM and close at 3:30 PM EST which would then be 7:00 AM and 1:30 PM in the West respectively. This would also maintain exactly the current arbitrage with Europe and other world markets.
The positive impact of reducing the time differential across Canada and the USA on participants and viewers of live sports events and late night telecasts from one coast to another would be great indeed. Live national broadcasts from the east if broadcast at the regular programming times would allow people in the east to retire an hour earlier. The same is true of live broadcasts such as the Acadamy Awards broadcast from Hollywood which can keep people in the eastern seaboard up until after midnight on a work and school day. An extra hour's sleep for just those North Americans who watch such programs would undoubtedly contribute to productiviy and improve the gross national product all on its own!
The problem during national elections in the USA and Canada of trying to prevent voters in the west and the middle of our respective country from being influenced by results of voting in the east in the two or three hours after their poll stations have closed would be reduced significantly. Instead of requiring that Easterners delay voting and Westerners end voting early by as much as an hour respectively, there would be improved syncronization of the polling times.
Having to adjust to one less hour in continental travel would also reduce jet lag for busy travelers whether traveling on business or pleasure. This would certainly be a welcome prospect for busy coast to coast traveling executives or our frequently flying national politicians governing our two countries which are thousands of miles across.
What will it take? There is no cost for new machinery, no investment in new bureacracies. All that is needed is goodwill on the part of a majority of Americans, Canadians and Mexicans to compromise by one half hour. Residents living in the New Atlantic, New Eastern and New Central time zones would set their clocks back half an hour from present while those in the New Western, Alaskan and Hawaiian-Aleutian time zones would advance their clocks half an hour. These changes would cause less disruption than the current practice of moving clocks an entire hour to accommodate Daylight Saving Time.
Perhaps, above all, it is important to maintain North America's competitive advantage by coordinating time changes within and between the major trading partners in NAFTA in order to meet the objective of the US Department of Transport which is to:"... .harmonize and optimize our financial, industrial, transportation, and communications links..." This could well be the most cost effective decision taken by government since the adoption of standard time.
The time has come to re-examine our existing system of time zones, while we are still experimenting with the extension of daylight saving time imposed in April 2007 and before China and India begin to outcompete North America in the world market place.