Joan Richardson, a born-again bus rider, was an early convert to the new religion of public transportation.

She foresaw the gasoline crisis last fall when she heard rumblings about the problem at her job at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

So she decided to stop driving the 30-mile round trip to the agency's headquarters in Germantown every day. She sold her car, got a new job in the District of Columbia and started to take the bus to work.

"I'm happy to be here," she said yesterday, as the £3 bus she was riding rumbled down Connecticut Avenue, past the filling station gas lines.

Although few commuters have gone as far as Richardson, Metro officials report that ridership is up. On many buses, there is a sense of what one commuter called "deliverance" as riders whiz past the gas lines.

At 7:50 a.m. yesterday in Glen Echo, the riders boarding the N5 Express had to walk through a blocks-long line of gas-starved cars waiting for a station to open.

"It happens every morning," said Ed Rovner, who recently switched to mass transit. "Somebody on the bus will always say, 'My God, look at that line.' It's like everybody on the bus feels they've been delivered."

Congressional staffer David Holt was delivered from the gas lines yesterday, and ended up - quite reluctantly - on a bus.

Holt started out from his Kensington home nearly two hours earlier than usual to get some gas for his Volvo's nearly empty tank, but the length of the gas lines scared him off.

Holt left his car, tried walking, then hitchhiking, and finally hopped on the bus. At the end of his nearly two-hour trek to the Federal Triangle, he was grumbling "Never again."

But other riders, particularly the regulars who didn't need a gas crunch to get them on a bus, are loving every minute of the shortage.

One man, reading a paper and sneaking a smoke at the back of the No. 10 bus from Alexandria to Rosslyn, gazed smugly at a gas line and called the bus his "air-conditioned limo."

His fellow rider Pete Franklin, a maintenance man at the Smithsonian Institution, confided that he's always regretted being unable to buy his own car. But in the last few weeks, he said, that fact has given him a "peculiar sense of well-being."

Bus drivers, too, have noted a change since the gas crisis began. "It's been so crowded I've had to pass people by at the last couple of stops," said driver I. B. Stewart as he piloted his bus from Shirlington to the Pentagon Metro station yesterday. "That hardly ever happened before."

The new passengers include car poolers who have switched, commuters who are driving to suburban bus stops and leaving their cars, folks who used to sleep late and then run for their cars to make it to work on time.