SEIZING ON the shortsightedness of Fairfax County officials, the policy makers of Metro have embraced a parking plan that punishes air travelers who try to use the rail system to get to National Airport. From now until the Metrocrats realize the self-defeating message in their move, nobody will be permitted to park for more than 24 hours in the lots at four key stations in Northern Virginia: Huntington, Vienna, Dunn Loring and West Falls Church. Any cars left longer than that are to be bagged with $25 tickets and will be subject to towing. The effect is to put those air travelers back into their cars for the full ride along crowded highways and on to the gates of lots at National that fill up early; these motorists can then join the others who crawl around the cement maze that passes for an approach to the airport.

The idea, pushed by Fairfax Supervisor Joseph Alexander, is to respond to commuters who find the Metro lots full and who resent the fact that some of the spaces have been occupied by cars left for days at a time. They have a point -- it's just that their supervisors don't have a good response. Obviously there's not enough parking anywhere from the outer stations of the subway lines to the airport. Instead of sending away would-be users of rapid transit, however, officials should do whatever it takes to:

Come up with bigger parking lots. The new Fairfax board could make a name for itself quickly, in the name of mass transit and to the relief of constituents all over the county.

Run these lots the way commercial lots are operated. Ticket-dispensing machines and people in booths at exits, along with higher rates for long-term parkers, could offset increased costs of such an operation.

People who try to use Metro have to get to it first, and if that connection isn't convenient as well as reliable, it's back onto those clogged roads that voters in Fairfax had so much to say about.