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Chicago Trains, Subways, and Buses

An overview of Chicago trains and bus public transportation system

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A CTA Pink Line rapid transit train pulls into the Ashland Avenue Station on its way from Chicago's Loop.
Bruce Leighty/Photodisc/Getty Images

Chicago, like any big city, has its share of traffic issues, and it can sometimes be very frustrating traveling through the city by car. Not to mention the scarcity of street parking and the ever increasing costs of downtown parking garages, and Chicago public transportation starts to look like a great choice for getting around town. Fortunately, Chicago trains and buses are a great way to get you where you need to go. Follow this guide, and you'll be zipping around the city in no time.

Chicago Trains and Public Transportation Basics
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs a network of trains and buses that service nearly every corner of the city. The trains fall under two categories -- subway and elevated trains (the "L"). A quick look at a map of the Chicago train system, and you can see it spiders out from downtown and is your best bet for getting to most of your Chicago destinations. The CTA buses fill in the gaps, running on a regular schedule on most major city streets. Visit the CTA's website for more visitor information about Chicago's train and bus system, group sales, and top transit trips.

Chicago Transit System fare information

Current fares as of January 1, 2009:

  • Single Ride: $2.25 per ride for either bus or train (bus is $2 if using transit card)
  • Reduced Fares: Senior citizens 65 and older ride free (To receive this fare, you must fill out an application for a reduced fare card), military personnel in full uniform ride free, and children 7-11 pay a reduced fare of: $1.00 bus, $.85 train. Children under 7 are free.
  • Transit card: A transit card can be loaded with any amount from $2.00 up to $100. Transit cards are required to ride CTA trains, and are available from vending machines located at all train stations.
  • Visitor passes: Passes offer unlimited rides in a specific time period and are available at select locations (pdf).

    1-day: $5.75
    3-day: $14
    7-day: $23
Here are some more basics you need to know:
  • Bus fareboxes accept the transit card as well as cash.
  • *NOTE*: neither the transit card vending machines or bus fareboxes give change, so make sure to have small bills handy when taking Chicago public transportation.

Chicago Card
The Chicago Card (not to be confused with the Go Chicago Card is a plastic card that uses a stored-value system to allow you to add value through any CTA vending machine located at every Chicago train station. To board the train or bus, simply touch the Chicago Card to the designated area on the front of the turnstile or bus farebox. This is a great option if you are a frequent visitor to Chicago. Basics of the Chicago Card:

Extended Stay Passes
The Chicago Transit Authority also has options for those staying in Chicago on extended visits.

  • 7-day unlimited ride pass: $23
  • 30-day pass: $86

All of the passes and transit cards are also available online. While the CTA has somewhat of a confusing fare system, believe me, it is still infinitely easier than trying to find a parking spot along Michigan Avenue.

Chicago Train and Bus Maps and Routes
The CTA offers a complete system map online, in both HTML and PDF formats. The colored lines indicate a train or subway, and are generally referred to as their indicated color (Red Line, Blue Line, etc.). Bus numbers are indicated in the ovals along the routes. The CTA is always attempting to streamline their operation, so train and bus intervals can vary depending on time of day and route -- especially overnight. Both bus schedules and train schedules are available online. A general rule of thumb -- if you don't have a schedule handy, during normal working hours downtown trains arrive every few minutes, buses every ten minutes.

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