TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS in Montgomery County have gone to some lengths to point out that "business traffic is the main cause of peak-hour traffic." They have taken this message to more than 100 business executives, government officials and local leaders. The idea is to encourage the help of private enterprise in unclogging the roads. The response so far: some firms have found ways to help and others at least are giving it some thought.

A primary source of traffic trouble is the number of cars carrying no more than their drivers -- sometimes 80 percent of the peak- hour jams. Employers who don't want to lose customers and employees who don't like the jams and the increasingly tougher hunts for parking spaces are experimenting with options. County Transportation Director Robert S. McGarry singles out one that will be the object of public policy: higher parking fees. Mr. McGarry is encouraging businesses to charge parking fees for their spaces, and to reward employees who use alternative transportation. Montgomery officials also are suggesting that employers offer preferred parking for car pools.

The trouble with most of these urgings by governments has been that they themselves set poor examples when they provide free or discount parking for their employees. But Montgomery will start charging for parking at its Rockville government complex next year, according to Mr. McGarry. He points out that "we've been shooting ourselves in the foot by providing free parking. Basically we've been encouraging people to drive. We've got 16 bus routes that serve the area and Metro right across the street. But when you offer parking for free, people say, 'What the hell.'

As an executive of one large company noted, when you charge for parking, people say, "What's the best alternative?" -- and car pools start to form. Revenues from those people still willing to pay the parking fees can be used to subsidize the pools and to defray fares for employees who ride buses and subways. Businesses in other local jurisdictions with similar traffic jams, please copy.