Whether you own a car, a bike, or just a pair of shoes, you’ll probably need to take Chicago’s public transport system sooner or later if you’re a resident of the city. The Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, consists of a network of bus, rail, and Metra commuter trains that can take you almost anywhere you need to go, both within the city and beyond.
Before you ride Chicago’s public transport system, you’ll need to purchase tickets. You can choose between single tickets, day passes, and monthly passes. Check the CTA fare chart for updated fare information.
There are a few ways to pay for your ride on the CTA. Ticket machines at L stations sell single-use paper tickets and Ventra cards, which cost $5 and can be reloaded. You’ll get the $5 credited back to your account if you register the card online. Download the Ventra app to reload your card from your phone and get notifications when your balance is low. If your smartphone is equipped with a payment system like Google Pay or Apple Pay, you also have the option of using this feature directly at the turnstile or bus reader to pay for single rides. However, this won’t work if you want to use a day or month passes.
Chicago’s rail system, commonly called the L, consists of eight lines that run all the way from Wilmette in the north to 95th Street in the south. Most lines run from about 4:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m., although the Red and Blue Lines are 24 hours. Check out the CTA’s map of the L to see more detailed route information.
Riding the L is easy. Signs in the stations are clearly marked with the line and direction of each train, and maps are visibly displayed in case you need to double check your route. Use a route planner like Citymapper or Google Maps to find the best way to get from point A to point B.
The L is probably what you’ll take if you’re flying through one of Chicago’s airports. O’Hare is serviced by the Blue Line, while you’ll need to ride the Orange Line to get to Midway.
If you’re riding the Chicago public transport system, sooner or later you’ll probably need to take a bus. The CTA has 140 different bus routes, so it’s a bit more complicated than hopping on the train, but not impossible to figure out. A route planner app is probably your best bet if you’re trying to figure out which bus to take.
Bus stops are marked by blue and white signs that include the bus route number, name, and direction. Signs also include a phone number you can text to find out when the next bus is due. Just be careful that you’re on the correct side of the street when boarding the bus, otherwise, you might accidentally end up headed in the opposite direction! If you’re ever in doubt, just ask the bus driver. He or she will be more than willing to help guide you.
The CTA’s bus and rail systems should be completely sufficient to get you around Chicago. If you’re looking to stretch your legs outside city limits, the Metra commuter trains will take you far into the suburbs – almost as far as Wisconsin, in fact. Chicago Union Station, located near the Loop, is the main hub for many Metra trains. However, most lines make stops in other locations around the city that might be more convenient for you.
To ride the Metra, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate fare. This can be done most conveniently through the Ventra app. You can also purchase Metra tickets from a counter at larger stations or directly on the train if you’re willing to pay with cash. Just make sure to bring exact change.
As with any major city, safety is a concern for many people while riding Chicago’s public transport system. You don’t need to worry too much; the most common crime on the CTA is petty theft or pickpocketing. Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid openly showing valuables, including your smartphone. If you’re traveling at night, try to stay within sight of other passengers. In a situation that makes you fear for your safety, don’t hesitate to dial 911.
You should also take care when waiting for trains and buses by standing far back from the edge of the platform or curb. This is especially true during rush hour when stations and bus stops are most crowded. A line is marked on all L platforms to show the safest place to stand.
Once you’re off the bus or train, you should also take care when traveling on foot to your final destination. Keep this in mind when choosing an apartment, as it’s much safer to live closer to public transportation in order to avoid walking too far at night. A majority of Blueground’s furnished apartments in Chicago are conveniently located near L stops. Renting an apartment also gives you access to a Guest App, which has neighborhood advice so you can see what’s happening in your area.
The CTA is easy to navigate, and it’s only getting easier with smartphone technology and trip planner applications. Try a few to see which you like best; it’ll make your travels around the city easy and stress-free.