President Carter's longstanding ledge to end the "imperial presidency" was brought home with special force yesterday to members of his White House staff.

Carter ordered that the practice of shuttling senior White House aides from their homes to work and back in government limousines be terminated immediately. As a result, the most powerful members of the White House inner circle will have to drive themselves to work or find other means of transportation, just like other government employees.

White House press secretary Jody Powell, who has been taking cabs to work until his Volkswagen arrives in Washington, announced the President's action and said studies are under way to determine what other privileges traditionally associated with the White House should be ended.

Conceding that the White House limousine service was not a major expenditure, Powell said Carter's order was in party "symbolic."

"If the President and the administration intends as we do, to call on other parts of the executive branch to make reductions and to call on the American people to make individual sacrifices, it is certainly incumbent on us to make similar reductions," he said.

Powell said Carter told members of his Cabinet at their first Cabinet meeting yesterday morning to make similar reductions in their departments' motor pools. The President did not ask the Cabinet secretaries to give up their own government-supplied limousines, he said.

Carter's action yesterday will not end all limousine service for White House aides. According to Powell, the White House will continue to operate a fleet of vehicles for business trips through the city by presidential aides. Overall, the President's plan will reduce the White House fleet from 56 vehicles to no more than 36, he said.

The White House said it could not provide figures on the savings involved in the termination of the home-to-work shuttle service for senior aides.

According to Powell, about 13 senior aides to President Ford enjoyed the limousine service. About 20 White House aides were accorded the privilege in both the Nixon and Johnson administrations, he said.

The task of weeding out White House privileges is under the direction of the President's cousin, Hugh Carter Jr., who is special assistant to the President for administration.

Hugh Carter said one White House vehicle that will be eliminated is a four-wheel-drive Plymouth that was used to pick up staff members when it snowed. He said presidential aides are also being urged to form car pools, which can enjoy special parking privileges at the White House.

Powell said that among the other items being examined for possible reductions is the fleet of presidential aircraft that is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base.