Dear Dr. Gridlock:

At the entrance to the West Falls Church Metro station, there is a sign stating that as of June 28, 2004, cash will not be accepted to pay for parking at that station. You must have a SmarTrip card.

It is impossible to buy a SmarTrip card at that Metro station. While I can buy a card elsewhere, can you please ask Metro what arrangements will be made for tourists?

Gaye Lindsey

McLean

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Now that the Metro parking lots will accept only SmarTrip cards, will there still be someone at the booth to troubleshoot?

If not, what are riders to do when there is a problem? In the past year, I have experienced at least two instances in which the SmarTrip card machines failed.

Barbara Kritzer

Potomac

Metro is making this change amid allegations that cashiers were stealing parking fees they collected.

Dr. Gridlock has submitted these and other anxious reader questions to Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein for comment. She says:

"Here is everything you need to know about SmarTrip parking at Metro lots:

"Starting Monday, June 28, customers who park at Metro parking lots will have to pay for parking via the SmarTrip card. This change is being implemented to eliminate suspected theft of parking fees. There will no longer be cashiers taking money starting June 28.

"Metro will install SmarTrip vending machines inside Metro stations that have parking garages. That way, visitors or tourists can pick up a card when they enter or exit the Metrorail system.

"If they purchase it when they enter, they can use it to pay for their trip on rail, and then later when they return to their vehicle. Or, they can just pick one up on their way back to their car.

"SmarTrip cards cost $5 each, plus the amount of fare the individual wants to purchase on the card -- up to $200.

"Currently, customers who park in Metro-owned parking lots pay if they exit the parking lots between 2 and 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Under the new plan, payment hours will be expanded from 9 a.m. until closing, Mondays through Fridays. Parking will remain free on weekends and federal holidays.

"When a vehicle is ready to exit, the driver just has to tap the SmarTrip card to the target and the gate will lift, allowing the vehicle to exit. It works the same way the fare gate works inside the station -- tap the target with the SmarTrip card, and the fare gate opens. The parking fee is automatically deducted from the card.

"Metro will have staff monitoring the parking lots in case there is a technical malfunction.

"Other locations of SmarTrip sales outlets are also available by calling (202) 637-7000 or logging on to www.wmata.com/riding/smartrip.cfm."

Thank you, Ms. Farbstein.

Let's look at this another way: Because Metro was incapable of effectively monitoring subcontractor cash collections at its parking lots, Metro is forcing self-collection onto its customers.

While this allows Metro to save on labor costs (no more cashiers), Metro is at the same time doubling the time frame in which customers will have to pay to park.

In other words, the more Metro saves, the more its customers pay.

Is this any way to run a railroad?

Try a Moped

In the ongoing discussion on lack of parking in the District, I've yet to see this solution: downsize your four-wheeler to a two-wheeler. Easier to park, lots of cargo space, more fuel efficient, cheaper to buy and operate.

Paul Wilson

Washington

Mopeds, I'm told, get 100 miles per gallon, cost $1,200 to $1,500 new, travel up to 45 mph, and you could probably park one inside your home.

Chat With the Doctor

Dr. Gridlock will hold a live online discussion from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday. Comments and questions are welcome. Log on to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

Also, I will be vacationing from the columns in the Thursday Extras until Aug. 19. The Sunday columns will continue each week.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at drgridlock@washpost.com or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county, and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.