THERE IS ONLY ONE response to the walkout Thursday by hundreds of Metro bus drivers following the early-morning rape of a female bus driver: an urgent, concerted effort to make the buses safe to ride and drive. Nothing less will transform the current atmosphere and quiet the justifiable fears of bus riders and bus drivers alike. True, the number of reported crimes that occur on the 1,600 buses that daily cover the metropolitan area is minuscule. Just 18 assaults were reported this year (all in the District); 12 of the victims were the bus drivers. So, even allowing for the crimes that aren't reported, it's clear no wave of violent crime is raving all the buses or bus passengers. Only a few bus routes, Metro officials keep insisting, merit the plainclothes Metro police officers who ride the buses. Maybe so, in a technical sense. But for many, riding the bus around Washington has become, at best an uncomfortable, and at worst, a dangerous undertaking because of conduct by some passengers that falls somewhere between harassment and terrorism. By this we mean smoking cigarettes or marijuana, playing radios or talking loudly, using profane language or threatening other passengers. All of this is disagreeable, at least, and downright menacing when passengers or the bus driver have the temerity to object.

The remedies agreed to on Thursday by Metro and city officials don't seem to us to convey nearly the right sense of urgency or commitment to take forceful action. The schedule of bus layover stops will be reviewed and revised to eliminate dangerous locations (the rape Thursday occurred while the driver had stopped between shifts in an isolated area of a federal park). Silent alarms that will allow the driver to signal quietly an emergency will be installed on all buses within two weeks. Metro's 160-member transit police force will redeploy its members in an effort to increase surveillance of certain bus routes, and Metro will try to develop more accurate crime-reporting procedures.

That's fine - as far as it goes. But clearly more needs to be done. Metro should increase its security force and place more officers, both plainclothes and uniformed, on buses on those routes where trouble occurs frequently. Next, Metro should let it be known that those steps are being taken. And that can best be done by a visible security presense. That's what has worked to reduce or prevent rowdy behavior not only on other cities' transit systems, but on Metro's new subway as well. Let's remember what we're talking about here - nothing more or less than maintaining a certain level of order and civility on the public transportation system.