CTA (city trains & buses, the EL), Chicago

104 Reviews

  • View of EL from Wendella Boat Tour
    View of EL from Wendella Boat Tour
    by LoriPori
  • traffic
    by machomikemd
  • elevated
    by machomikemd

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    by LoriPori Updated Jun 24, 2011

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    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.

    CTA - Chicago Transit Authority The Elevated EL Station View of EL from Wendella Boat Tour
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    Chicago Transit Authority

    by Bwana_Brown Updated May 5, 2008

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    For my first ride into Chicago, I decided to use the Chicago Transit Authority train from O'Hare, instead of taking a more expensive taxi. However, after following the signs to the CTA departure area and paying $2 to obtain a ticket from a vending machine, things seemed to go a bit wrong from there.

    A string of cars was sitting in the departure area and they had a few people already sitting in them. Despite this, the doors did not open when several of we new passengers walked up to them, so we did not know for sure what was going on. In the end, the doors did open on one of the cars so we all hustled down to it and boarded. It was so crowded that I had to make my way through a couple of heavy doors to the next car, all the while manhandling my suitcase, laptop and carry-on bag! I found a spot and had to use a second seat as a place for my suitcase because there really is not any free space except the aisles themselves.

    Finally, we were underway but only went past two stations before the train came to a halt and we were told to disembark and to board a bus because track work was taking place - no mention had been made of this when I obtained my ticket. The first bus filled quickly but another came along not too much later and this one took us on a 20-30 minute ride to another station as we bypassed the work area. Once again, it was a crowd on the platform struggling to get in the next train while I man-handled my three pieces of luggage! From there on it was a nice ride as we made our way past several more stops before reaching the downtown Loop area. I didn't know exactly where my hotel was located but figured this was close enough and left the train - I took a taxi from there for the short ride to my hotel. After this experience, I decided to take a taxi back to the airport at the end of the trip!

    Overall, the CTA seemed to be a cheap and efficient way to get around Chicago - but it would be quite a hassle if you are dealing with luggage!

    A silver elevated train above a downtown street The steel structures that support the 'el'
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    "The L"

    by shellybelly567 Updated May 10, 2004

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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.

    CTA Seven Day Pass

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    Seniors' Free Rides on RTA

    by deecat Written Mar 29, 2008

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    About the middle of March, 2008, anyone who is 65 or oder who lives in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will, or McHenry County is eligible to ride FREE on transportation operated by the Chicago Transit Authority [CTA], Metra, and Pace. If you already have the Reduced Fare Permit [as I do], then within a few months a transition to the new "RTA free-ride ID Card" [the new "smart card' ] will take place.

    If you want to be elgible, you must sign up during normal business hours at the RTA's CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTER that is located at 165 North Jefferson Street in Chicago or a suburban site [270 of them]. For a list of the registration sites, you may call 836-7000 [from any local area code].

    Once you receive your card, you are able to show it to the bus driver, the train conductor; or, you can use it at a farebox or turnstile.

    This is a fabulous free service for seniors, especially low-income seniors. I personally think that this will give older people the opportunity to "get out and about" without financial burdens.

    Reduced Far Permit
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  • CTA

    by CoAir13 Updated Mar 6, 2004

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    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!!

    My CTA Card

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    The quickest and cheapest way to get to O'Hare

    by Jefie Written Oct 12, 2008

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    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.

    Blue line train at the O'Hare station
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  • The CTA Rail

    by bigbiggary Written Oct 17, 2004

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    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.

    A station entrance

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    Transit Tips for Chicago

    by deecat Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates the bus and rail system which services the city and surrounding suburbs.
    The five operating city train lines (referred to as the "L" or "el" by most Chicagoans) are named by COLOR.
    The BLUE& RED lines& PURPLE Lines
    These lines shuttle from Chicago to Evanston
    and run 24 hours daily.
    The BLUE line departs from O'Hare Airport about every six minutes daily from Terminal 3.
    The ORANGE line services Midway Airport; departing every 8 minutes.

    Bus Service
    Numbered from 1-204, most CTA buses run every 5-20 minutes daily from early morning through late into the night. Some run 24 hours; every 30 minutes at night. An OWL symbol on the bus sign indicates if a bus line runs all night long.

    Chicago is heavily populated with cabs, and flagging one down is simple. But, during the holiday season, getting a cab requires patience.
    Both distance and time determine the fare. Tips are at the discretion of the customer.
    A cab ride between O'HARE AIRPORT and CHICAGO costs about $25-$30.
    From MIDWAY AIRPORT to DOWNTOWN cost between $20-$25.

    Chicago Elevated Train ( Red Line
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    Subway (El) from O' Hare

    by Dabs Updated Nov 17, 2013

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    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.

    The el
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    CTA Passes & Prices

    by jo104 Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    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.

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    by Gina54 Written Oct 13, 2003

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    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.

    The El
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    CTA Public Transportation

    by meteorologist1 Updated Apr 17, 2006

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    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.

    Sample CTA ticket
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    Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)

    by rmdw Written Jul 12, 2003

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    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!

    Chicago Transit Authority - Transit Card
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    O'Hare to Clinton - Blue Line

    by grayfo Updated Aug 24, 2009

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    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.

    February 2005

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    Chicago's Infamous El

    by BeatChick Updated Jul 3, 2009

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    The Good
    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.

    The Bad
    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.

    The Ugly
    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

    El - Perfect Timing Photo Snap The El at The Loop Chicago at night from the El
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