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THE "EL" CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY - CTA
Getting around the city of Chicago is easy, especially when accompanied by locals who actually know where they are going - thanks David and Kristi.
Almost every bus or EL train will take you downtown for $2.00.
P.S.Be prepared to get off quick as the train doesn't stop long. (I almost got stuck on the train as I was too busy yakking with Martin).
Update: June 17, 18 and 19, 2011
While attending the VT Meet in Chicago, we had the opportunity to take the EL, to get us from the Cultural Center to Old Town. Our Chicago Greeter, Jeff, led the way. Sharon prepaid our tickets at a cost of $2.25 US each.
Chicago's EL is the rapid transit system that services the city and some surrounding suburbs. It is operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
The oldest sections of the EL started operating in 1892, making it the second oldest Rapid Transit System in the U.S., after New York City.
Although the EL got its nickname because large parts of the system are elevated, portions of the network are underground and ground level.
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While The L isn't necessarily the most efficient way to get around Chicago, but it is a symbol of the city and pretty easy to use. It's made up of seven branches, differentiated by color. The orange line goes to Midway, blue line to O'Hare, and all of the lines, except the yellow go downtown aka "The Loop."
To buy CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Passes that will get you on CTA buses and the L, you can go to a Currency Exchange, or buy them at the machines at some of the larger stations. Just don't believe the stupid lady at the Montrose Currency Exchange that tells you you can't use your debit card, because you can.
Warning: If you have an early flight on Sunday and you're taking the L to the airport, make sure to check the schedule, since routes are pretty limited on Sunday mornings.
The picture is of a house with the L tracks running through the yard. I like it because having train tracks going through your yard could really bring you down, but these people made lemonade out of lemons and hung tire swings, windchimes and plants from the tracks, integrating the cold metal into their yard.
If you are spending a couple of days in Chicago, get yourself a CTA Transit Card. This offers unlimited travel on the subway and busses for the length of time you purchase it.
1 day - $5
2 day- $9
3 day - $12
Check the website for more options.
It is well worth it if you plan on using public transport. Regular subway fare is $1.75!!!
Not valid on Metra or certain Pace routes!!
The quickest and cheapest way to get to O'Hare
Most attractions in Chicago are located within very easy walking distance, so during the week I spent in the city, I didn't even have to use public transportation. However, when it came time to return to the airport to catch my flight back home, hopping on the "L" seemed like the best option to avoid all the traffic. The blue line takes you straight to the aiport (O'Hare is the last station on the line) and tickets only cost $1.75. The trains are relatively clean and seemed pretty safe, at least on the section I was on. To get downtown from the airport is also very easy: from the baggage claim area, just follow the little train symbols to the O'Hare station. Once you're on the train, your best option probably is to get off at the Clark/Lake station and from there walk or take a cab to your hotel.
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The CTA Rail
The CTA rail system in chicago is wonderful. Though many complain about the dirtiness, I honestly believe that it is over examined. True many of the support beams are rusted along with dirt on the walls, but this only adds to the feel. The trains stop about every 5 to 10 minutes and are much quicker than driving or taking a taxi. The costs for ticks are $1.75 per ride and $0.25 for a transfer, which can be used twice within two hours of purchase. Unlimited passes are also availible, but have to be purchased at the correct location. The Union Station sells some, along with a gift shop in the Sears Tower. These are sometimes sold out and suggest you purchase them from either RTA head quarters, or CTA head quarters located in merchandise mart.
1 Day Unlimited Pass: $5.00
2 Day Unlimited Pass: $9.00
3 Day Unlimited Pass: $12.00
5 Day Unlimited Pass: $18.00
7 Day Unlimited Pass: $20.00
30 Day Unlimited Pass: $75.00
These are the prices as of 2004. Some passes are offered at a reduced fare to seniors, students, and people with disabilities.
Chicago has seven lines, represented by color. The train from O'hare Airport to Downtown, can be caught by following the signs which say "trains to city." The station can be found by going to baggage claim and following the signs. Midway also has the same signs. Crime is not much of a threat, if you are careful were you stand and stay away from the down and out, also don't offend anyone, that is the cause of most crimes.
CTA Passes & Prices
I purchased a 7 day cta pass for $23 which you can use on both the El & the buses there is no zone system so you can travel anywhere on the 7 day unlimited pass. Also please note that it is 7 24hrs from the first time you use it so it may be good for your journey the day after you think it expires. There is also a 3 day pass for $14 & a 1 day fun pass for $5.75, these prices are excellent considering a single bus or train ride will cost you $2.25.
My advice to you is purchase your pass for the whole period of your stay at the airport before you leave as it is a hassle to find anywhere that sells just 1 day passes. Believe it or not you cannot purchase these CTA passes at the El station but are rather sent to Walgreens or Jewel-Osco. After a long search to find a 1 day fun pass we finally found one at Jewel-Osco at State and Grand (red line).
Put your pass in the reader at the turnstyle gates with the cta picture facing you clipped corner upwards the card is then recorded and given back remember to take the card out of the reader before going through the turnstyle, no need to tap out.
The CTA is the Chicago Transit Authority. You can really get around town using either the El or a bus. If you go to the website, you can actually create a trip. Just like mapquest, you can plug in addresses and get an itinerary.
They also have a tourist card:
Visitor Passes (1-Day, 2-Day, 3-Day and 5-Day): Purchase passes by calling 1-888-YOUR-CTA (weekdays only). Visitor Passes are also available at Visitor Information Centers, Hot Tix, and Sears Tower.
Subway (El) from O' Hare
If you are traveling from O' Hare to downtown the cheapest and often quickest way is to take the Blue Line el also known as the CTA. As of January 1, 2013, it's $5 per person, the only fare in the whole system that has an upcharge. There's no extra charge for luggage. Or if you plan on using the el and buses a lot in Chicago you can get a visitor pass (1, 3 or 7 days) and the ride from O'Hare is included. The trip takes about 45 minutes to downtown Chicago.
The CTA station is located at the lowest level of the Main Parking Garage next to elevator center 4. You should be able to follow the signs that look like a subway car. But don't get on the remote parking train by mistake.
Clark/Lake is the most central stop, you can walk to some loop hotels or take a cab from there to the Mag Mile or River North, the cab fare should be less than $5 to most hotels. Or you can transfer to the red line at Washington and take it to Grand or Chicago which will get you closer to the Mag Mile hotels. If you are staying in the south loop you can get off at Washington or Monroe on the blue line without transferring.
The blue line el is a regular commuter train, like the tube in London, so there isn't extra room for luggage like on some airport trains. But O'Hare is the first stop on the line and patrons are used to seeing folks with luggage so as long as you can manage your luggage on and off the train, you should be fine.
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CTA Public Transportation
The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) is Chicago's public transportation for both the bus and subway (elevated train). The Blue line serves O'hare International Airport and the Orange line serves Midway Airport. They will take you to downtown conveniently. All the lines meet in downtown and there are a lot of stations there, both under and above ground. The Red Line also has a convenient stop in Chinatown (Cermak-Chinatown).
The subways can become somewhat dangerous for tourists at night, especially on the Green Line on the Southside. Just be extra careful. The fares for both bus and subway cost $1.75 and costs another $0.25 for a transfer. (As of 2006, the fare is now $2.00; check their web site for the latest info.) You can get a card as shown in the picture on which you can add money and just swipe every time. Please refer to the homepage below for schedules and maps.
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O'Hare to Clinton - Blue Line
Fares for single adult users are $1.70, the plastic strip allows you to add as much fare as you like, useful if you do not have the correct change.
Please note: The shops in the airport are not allowed to give out change, so try to avoid having to purchase something unnecessary.
The trains are referred to as the ‘El’ or ‘L’ – the name is derived from the elevated rail that circles around the main Downtown business and shopping district. The seven train lines are identified and named by a different colour.
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Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)
Chicago has a superb and extensive transit system. At its core is the "El-Train" ("El" is short for "Elevated") that branches out like an octopus from "The Loop" downtown.
To/from the El Train one can use a bus to get around.
If you fly into O'Hare International it is a very convenient $1.50 fare to travel to anywhere in Chicago. As I usually head to a friend's home far on the south side of the city, it is indeed quite the deal!
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Chicago's Infamous El
One of the best things is their trip planner function which I found very easy to use & comparable to Les Pages Jaunes Itinéraire function. However, I'd recommend adding at least 15 minutes to any estimates. Of course, I did visit Chicago during the weekend they were having a rate hike changeover (Sunday) and they were making changes to their schedules (I understand they may be dropping some El lines or stops) so that may have had something to do with it. Using the system for 3 days, though, didn't really give me a chance to get used to the system. And of course, if I'd been closer to downtown any glitches would've been lessened.
It would've been okay if I could've depended on the Chicago Transit System but I couldn't. I found it to be grossly unreliable & I was late for all 3 dinners/brunches with my friends.
Saturday on my way to meet shrimp56, the red line was held up in transit (we sat for 20 minutes), an announcement came over the intercom that the train would be made an express line through the next 6 stops stopping just past where I wanted to go. I opted to stay, got off at the next stop, got lost, figured out my way, & backtracked to the Art Institute stop making me 30 mins late meeting shrimpie. She was gracious stating that'd given her a bit o' time to shop (she's a sweetie).
Sunday on my way to meet Callavetta & Dabs, thought THIS time I'd given myself plenty of extra time but still managed to be 10-15 minutes late. The line had been shut down somewhere north of us. We waited in frustration as we saw the Red Line going north 3 times before we finally got ours. Of course it was full. Thank God for cell phones so you can call your friends.
I have to say I'm pretty spoiled as far as subways go. My only previous experience is with London's Tube & Paris' Métro which are both relatively clean compared to Chicago's El system.
Photos: June 2009, September 2007
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El - The disgrace of Chicago
The El in my opinion is the disgrace of Chicago. The trains at least on the blue line are VERY old and tired. The ride is FAR from smooth. I really am a HUGE fan of public transportation. I do not own a car. And wish I could say great things about it. But the El in Chicago is just plain old and not a fun time.
The ticket machines for single ride tickets do not take credit cards. What a joke. And NO change is given. Really people. Instead of tearing up lake side runways in the middle of the night you should be upgrading your transit system.
Takin' the El
I've posted this, in part, because I love elevated trains, or "els". That's probably because I grew up near an el in the Bronx.
We don't have too many left in New York, but Chicago's got one - and its famous too. The El loops around downtown Chicago, making...the Loop. Walking under the El, on Lake Street or Wabash Avefor example, really gives that "Chicago feel". Though it can get a little loud when the train goes by.
Chicago has an extensive transit system. The train lines are given different colors - for example, take the Blue Line to O'Hare, the Orange Line to Midway Airport or the Red Line to a White Sox game. There are also many buses to take you where you want to go and, if you want to splurge, taxis are all over the place.
Bottom line: when coming to Chicago, you don't need a car. Mass transit & taxis get you where you need to go...and also, Chicago is a great walking city too.
Airport Transportation made Easy!
I took the subway from Midway to our hotel. It was so easy to do since the subway stop goes right to the airport. (Not so, here, in Boston!) It was clean, nicely air-conditioned and gave me my first glimpse of the city's skyline.
It helped that the hotel was w/in one block of the stop too!
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