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Councilmember’s Corner: What a new Northern Bus Barn with all electric buses means for Ward 4

The historic Northern Bus Barn garage has served as a public transit hub for our community in Sixteenth Street Heights for more than a century. Operating first as a storage and maintenance facility for electric streetcars, Northern then transitioned to serving DC’s growing bus network and came under Metro’s ownership in 1966. The bus garage quickly became a critical part of our transit system by housing MetroBuses close to key bus corridors like 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue. As a child, I remember getting off the bus on 14th Street and greeting MetroBus drivers who were enjoying their lunch across the street at Smokeys in between shifts. With major reconstruction planning efforts underway for Northern, the bus garage went out of service in 2019.

For many years now, our community has been steadily advocating for the facility to reopen without the harmful fumes of diesel buses. As recently as 2021, WMATA had committed that Northern Bus Barn would become its first all-electric bus garage with “infrastructure and equipment needed to run 100% electric vehicles.” But WMATA planned to first reopen the facility with a mix of new battery-electric vehicles and current MetroBus diesel and diesel-hybrid buses. Given that WMATA didn’t aim to fully transition to a zero-emission bus fleet until 2045, that meant that neighbors near Northern Bus Barn could be exposed to dangerous diesel fumes for nearly two decades before the transition was complete. It also meant that WMATA would invest millions to build a facility with diesel bus infrastructure that would be obsolete just a few years later.

But our community did not give up.

Neighbors continued to advocate, show up at community meetings, and press for Northern Bus Barn to become what we always knew it could be. I remember meeting neighbors at their doorsteps in Sixteenth Street Heights, and this issue came up in nearly every conversation. So since taking office, we consistently raised this issue at Council hearings, advocated with WMATA’s leadership, passed a resolution from the whole Council calling for an all-electric Northern Bus Barn, and kept pushing so that our community’s voice would be heard.

After years of community organizing, WMATA announced this week that Northern Bus Barn would have an all zero-emission, electric bus fleet when it opens in 2027!

This will protect our community’s health from the harmful effects of diesel fumes – especially on the elderly, on children, and on communities of color. A fully-electric bus fleet at Northern will also help reduce the noise pollution in our neighborhoods – ensuring that MetroBuses move more quietly through our streets. Once it reopens, the facility will maintain the building’s historic facade and bring new retail, art, streetscape improvements, and a community meeting space for Ward 4 – adding even more life and commerce to our 14th Street corridor. And, crucially, a bus garage with all-electric buses is a monumental step towards a sustainable future as we confront the urgent reality of climate change. This will help make WMATA and DC a leader in providing green public transit that does right by our community and right by our planet.

I want to thank every neighbor and ANC Commissioner who dedicated their time and energy to this – especially community leaders like Taalib-Din Uqdah, who has been a tireless champion for our community and brought so many of us together. We know that our work is far from done, but we wouldn’t have gotten to this point without you. I also want thank WMATA, GM Randy Clarke for his boldness and vision to make this a reality, the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) for its funding support, the dedicated Northern Bus Garage project team, WMATA’s bus electrification team that has been working incredibly hard, and our amazing MetroBus drivers — many of whom live in Ward 4. Neighbors can learn more about the Northern Bus Garage Reconstruction Project and community meetings on the project website.

Public transit is essential for Ward 4, helping our community get to school, to work, to our small businesses, to our loved ones, and anywhere else we need to go on a daily basis. Earlier this year, the Council passed the Metro for DC bill that will improve bus service, create overnight service (including the S2, 52, 70, and 80 routes in Ward 4), make all MetroBus service in DC fare-free starting in July, and eventually cover the cost of MetroRail for DC residents too.

As we broke ground on the future Northern Bus Barn this week, we celebrated that not only will the buses stored at Northern be free to use in DC, but they will also be all electric!

This piece first appeared in Petworth News.