Arlington Metrobus driver Lonnie T. Tate went to work yesterday for the first time in five days, apologizing to his riders for any inconvenience the strike had caused them.

In Tate's view, Arlington drivers have what he later described as a "positive attitude" about their jobs and their passengers, an attitude that persuaded them to return to work Sunday and yesterday while most other drivers in the area continued their five-day wildcat strike.

"Tonight when I take my people to Herndon I'll joke and talk to them," he said in an interview yesterday. "I'll make a public apology."

The Arlington drivers - the first division to go back to work in full force - say their group is different from other divisions partly because they have developed close contacts with many of their passengers. In addition, they note, many Arlington drivers have worked for the Washington area's previous and present bus systems for close to 20 years. Some were drivers when bus service in Arlington was still provided by the privately owned WV & M Coach Co, a D.C. Transit System subsidiary.

Drivers in Arlington also say they were persuaded to return to work, while other divisions refused, because they have a close working relationship with their immediate supervisors. One supervisor, Ken G. Swan, the garage's assistant superintendent, had started out as a driver in Arlington 14 years ago. Arlington drivers repeatedly described their division as a more cohesive unit than the other divisions.

"This division is more level-headed than others," said one Arlington driver, F.B. Graham. "They're more family oriented." Another driver asserted, "We're just one big, happy family here."

Many of the Arlington drivers said that they hoped other divisions would soon followe their move by returning to work.

"We organized and stuck together," Marino Fatigati, a 20-year veteran driver, said. "We were more intelligent and happy drivers here . . . We felt that somebody had to do something and we chose to do it."

So when the division's appointed leaders William T. Scoggin and Bill Ottinger urged them to go back to work following a federal judge's order the drivers agreed.

"I came back because I was . . . listening to Mr. Scoggin and what he said made sense to me," said another driver, L. D. Greene. "He said he was coming back and he seemed like a pretty fair representative to me."

"We had our day in court and I think the judge is fair," said Joseph Lucas, an Arlington driver for 15 years. "It satisfied me. I don't think we could have expected any more. Those boys downtown are being unreasonable."

Also contributing to this story was Washington Post staff writer Janis Johnson .