For some in Massachusetts, ghouls and goblins were not the only creatures that haunted our houses last weekend. The specter of Daylight Savings Time too crept in the night, and with it came the dread of blacker, earlier evenings for the rest of the year.
Criticism of Daylight Savings Time resurges every year, and in spite of the immediate benefit of an extra hour of sleep the first night the clocks change in fall, many complain that 4:30 p.m. sunsets are sufficiently repugnant to endorse stopping the practice altogether. A piece published in the Boston Globe last month proposed that Massachusetts switch to Atlantic Standard Time, igniting particular interest again in the topic this fall. Though the piece’s conclusions in favor of upending the status quo are interesting, they are not compelling.
The argument turns on the question of how the shift away from Daylight Savings Time would be implemented. Tom Emswiler suggests in the Globe that Massachusetts should lead the charge and move to Atlantic Standard Time, which would be the equivalent of "keeping the clock an hour forward all year". The benefits of this switch, other than simply a later sunset, would apparently be medical, environmental, and psychological. Even if other northeastern states were to decide against such a switch, Emswiller still thinks Massachusetts would benefit: "New England,” he says, “should join a time zone more suited to us, not one that works for New York".
Massachusetts does not exist in isolation. Whatever economic and health benefits may arise in Massachusetts due to this switch will surely be offset by the utter confusion this will cause in interstate travel. According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, over 165,000 workers "commute into Massachusetts from... surrounding states" every single day.This problem is much more pertinent to Massachusetts than to Hawaii or Arizona, the two states that currently operate under a plan like that proposed by Emswiller. Cell phones in Hawaii and Arizona did not change time last Sunday, but Hawaii does not have to worry about daily interstate commuters at all, and Arizona’s largest metropolitan area—Phoenix—is located entirely within the state, while the Boston metropolitan area extends to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
Further, Emswiler barely considers the immediate economic impacts of creating a new time zone in Massachusetts. Massachusetts must gain approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the cost in bureaucratic man-hours and paper will not be negligible, no matter how well the initiative is packaged. The conversion to Atlantic Standard Time would also overlook many farmers, blue-collar workers, and some students who must get up early. If the psychological effects of an early sunset are considered to be significant enough to engender a switch in time zones, surely everyone must be accounted for.
Massachusetts may be known as an ever-innovating state, ready to embrace popular ideas at a pace unmatched by most. But when it comes to its evening hours, the state shouldn’t be afraid of the dark.