IT HAS BEEN said, read and physically confirmed that more people than ever are piling onto Metro's subway system -- and it's not merely the result of expansion. During the recent heat wave the platforms and trains of Metrorail were bustling with determined tourists and optionless commuters. Yet until Metro and local officials can come up with better bus and automobile connections to its stations, large numbers of would-be riders will continue to go the distance in their cars every day. In the suburbs, it's a shortage of parking spaces at the stations; in the city, it's inconvenient bus service and little or no parking to speak of. Cases in point:

In Vienna, a resident within a mile or two of that nice new subway station works in downtown Washington. To take the train, she would have to drive to the station by at least 7 a.m. most days just to get a parking spot. If she couldn't find a spot, the options would be 1) to park illegally, which these days is a likely $25 hit; 2) to keep on driving along the subway line in search of another station with a spare parking spot; or 3) to keep on driving, period.

Up near the Van Ness campus of UDC, the city-dwelling counterpart of your Vienna resident -- living just beyond a tolerable walk to the subway station -- has a simpler choice. With absolutely no daylong parking at or around the nearest stations, this young automotively mobile person motors all the way.

Obviously Metro can't manufacture parking spaces where no space exists; and curb spaces reserved for residents with neighborhood stickers are an understandable protection for homeowners against suburban invaders. And there will always be some residents -- city as well as suburban -- who just aren't within a practical bus shot of a subway connection.

Montgomery County leaders are showing initiative: they are planning to spend at least $6 million for twin parking garages at the Shady Grove Metrorail station. If it wins the required county council approvals, the project would be paid for and operated with county money and perhaps some state aid. Metro should be paying for it, one county official notes, but doesn't have the money, and thus it is up to the county to do the job. Other officials throughout the suburbs should be focusing more seriously on ways to increase the number of spaces at terminal and outer branch stations.

District officials, for their part, should be taking another hard look at some of those bus routes that haven't been changed since World War II: they may have to re-route and/or step up connector service to main bus lines as well as subway stations. Until that happens, there is little point in knocking those who continue to opt for the convenience of their cars.