Good to Know: An Introduction to Chicago’s Public Transit System

Waking Up From Your Public Transit Nightmare — It’s Actually a Pleasant Dream

When you first arrive in Chicago, public transit can be a little scary. As your loyal corporate housing experts, we’re here to make your stay with us as easy as possible. In a series of upcoming posts (this being the first), we’ll break down Chicago public transportation so it’s easier than sliding your credit card at the gas pump.

First, here’s a quick overview of two of the greatest things to ever happen to Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority (“The CTA”) and the  Regional Transportation System (“The RTA” or “Metra”).

Taking the WTF Out of The CTA
The CTA public transit includes the bus and train.

Get on the Bus – For those staying in CSN locations like Presidential Towers (West Loop), 180 N. Jefferson (West Loop), or Museum Park (South Loop), getting to Chicago’s North Side (where Wrigley Field is) often means transferring trains. Hop on a bus instead, which is often an easier/quicker way of transferring. Sometimes you can even avoid transferring altogether by finding the correct bus route. CTA bus routes serve specific neighborhoods, take you across town and help connect to other modes of public transit. There are a few tricks to mastering the bus, which you can find here on the CTA website. Fare – $2.25 per ride.

What the ‘L’ ?– Commonly referred to by Chicagoans as the ‘L,’ Chicago’s rail system is an  efficient way to commute around downtown Chicago. It consists of train lines spanning the city and neighboring communities. Two of the lines, the Red and Blue Lines, operate 24/7. If you’re staying at CSN locations like The Grand Plaza (River North), The Chicagoan (River North) or Columbus Plaza(River North), the ‘L’ is your best bet. Certain stations, like State/Lake, Jefferson and Roosevelt, bring various lines together for easy transfer. To learn more, visit the CTA website. Fare – $2.25 per ride

CTA Facts & Tips:

  • Day passes, 30 day passes and weekend passes are all available. For more information, click here.
  • The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus allow you to simply flash your card and board. Find more information here.
  • Train stations are a notorious place for valuables to be misplaced, lost or stolen. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close by.

The Metra? You Betcha!
If you’re staying at a suburban CSN location like the Iroquois Club (Naperville), MetroLoft (Arlington Heights) or Lincoln Meadows (Schaumburg), the Metra will become your best friend. The commuter rail system serves as your key to the city (Ogilvy and Union Station are the downtown stations), or to neighboring suburbs, or to work. Trains run frequently during rush hour and about every hour during off-peak times. They have a very detailed New Riders’ Guide on the Metra website — check it out. Fare – Depends on location. View a full list here.

Metra/RTA Facts & Tips

  • Weekend passes available for $7 and offer unlimited rides on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Most Metra stations are fully accessible for those with disabilities.
  • Due to limited space, you cannot check baggage on Metra trains, including skis, non-folding strollers or other large items.

Public Transit Lingo
If you know these words and phrases, you’ll fit right in with the locals.

“The Loop”  – Commercial center of downtown Chicago, or the middle of this crazy map.

“Ogilvie”  – Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago, or the huge glass building on Madison, filled with clusters of people who have no idea where they are going (Great food – Get there early and check out the French Market).

“Union Station”  – The smaller, not so glamorous version of Ogilvie, located a little south on Jackson Street.

“Addison” – The Red Line “L’ stop next to Wrigley field. Avoid at all costs during baseball season.

“Bus Bunching” – When buses arrive at the stops too close together, which leaves those waiting for a later bus out of luck (not a good thing.

“Straphanger” – Standing passengers who cannot find a seat and must grip the hanging strap. Also known as the majority of passengers who board the train/bus during rush hour.

“North Side” – North of the Chicago River (The Cubs).

“South Side” – South of the Chicago River, excluding the Loop (The Sox).