IT TOOK A WALKOUT by hundreds of Metro drivers in May to wake officialdom to serious security problems on the buses, but after a tentative initial response, good things are happening. Riding the buses may become more bearable and safe than it has been in years.

Officials are increasing the security force and shifting a number of officers from the relatively trouble-free subways to buses. There were 81 subway incidents reported between Jan. 1 and May 31 - most of which did not directly involve innocent riders. The offenses included minor property damage, fare evasion, eating or smoking, etc. There were five reported robberies, including pickpockets. So the switch makes sense. On the buses, Metro's police, who wear plain clothes while riding, have been cracking down, too. Between May 31 and midnight on July 3, there were 94 arrests and 824 warnings for a range of violations. Metro hs relocated seven bus layover stops from dangerous points and is reviewing others. A silent alarm system has been installed on the buses. Metro's management is listening to its drivers more carefully, and the drivers' union has agreed to expedite reports of misconduct.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers is asking the transit system to let off-duty police officers ride the buses and subways free, since a police officer is "techincally on duty 24 hours a day" and thus would intervene if an incident occured. Present policy permits free boarding only for uniformed officers and on-duty plainclothes officers with temporary passes. The union request strikes us as fair to the officers and useful to the public. Similar exchanges of free rides for protection have proved popular with residents in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

We hope Metro's efforts to make its system safer will continue to produce results. Passengers and employees demand it. The transit system, to build long-term ridership, needs it, too.