It's a familiar refrain for Metro riders: Get to work early or lose out.
They're not trying to please their bosses. Thousands of commuters are just attempting to snag a parking space in one of Metro's parking lots.
Some lots at the 42 stations with parking are already full by 8:30 a.m., with frustrated drivers circling for nonexistent spots.
Metro riders often complain about packed rail cars and crowded platforms. But one of the most pressing constraints is parking. Metro has 58,323 parking spots, but an estimated 80,000 riders out of the peak rush of 250,000 seek parking each weekday morning, said Assistant General Manager of Planning Nat Bottigheimer.
For riders particularly in the outer suburbs, it's a constant headache. For Metro, it's a problem that looms ever larger.
And it's not a cheap one to fix because building a new garage costs an estimated $25,000 per space.
If Metro ridership grows as expected, the transit agency estimates it would need 40,000 more parking spaces by 2040 for a total cost of about $1 billion.
But Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor who studies parking at the University of California at Los Angeles, said full parking lots also cost transit systems.
"The peak hour trains are very expensive. The cars fill up the parking lots and there's no space for midday riders," he said. "And they're the ones who don't cost the system."
Metrorail ridership already drops at some stations as soon as the lots fill up each morning. Some riders are effectively turned away, filling already congested roads in their cars instead.
Virginia Railway Express also faces a bottleneck with its parking lots. The commuter train service, which runs daily from the Virginia suburbs into Washington, has had record ridership this year. Even so, the estimated daily ridership for the next fiscal year is 18,850, well below seating capacity of 22,370, according to VRE.
"However, parking becomes the restricting factor because current parking capacity is 19,140. Outlying lots are at or near capacity," VRE officials wrote in a recent report.
The lot at Manassas Park often fills up before 7:20 a.m. And nearly every time a new lot is built for a VRE station, spokesman Mark Roeber said, it fills up faster than expected, reaching capacity after a year instead of the expected four years.
The Broad Run station lot was expanded about a year ago to 1,065 spaces, but Roeber said it had an overflow of about 135 cars parked along the side of the road for about a half mile last Tuesday, for example.
"Certainly anytime you see overflow crowds like that, it tells you the demand is there," he said. "Without a question, it's a concern."
The agencies could raise prices. VRE lots are free and Metro's cost no more than $4.75 per day. But that could discourage riders from taking transit and push more people onto crowded roads, officials from both agencies said.
Building new spaces is one possibility. A new parking facility is being built at Glenmont Metro station, with an expected opening date of May 2012.
Beyond the high cost, though, land isn't always available. And in many ways, officials say, using what land is available for parking may not be the wisest decision. Metro and local officials have been trying to encourage more development around stations so that people can live and even work near the hubs, eliminating the need for a commute or attracting reverse commuters to those areas.
"We want to be as efficient as possible with the local jurisdictions' money," Bottigheimer said. "We want to try to be economical about this."