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Traveling Around Chicago via Public Transit

Chicago Skyline

While Chicago is an easy city to navigate when driving, the area has a great public transit system that is affordable and efficient. A few of the bus routes and metro lines run 24 hours a day, making it easy to travel at any time of day. If you are keeping your car at home, here are the ways to travel around Chicago without a vehicle.


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs all the CTA trains and buses in the downtown core. Because both the buses and trains are run by the same company, you can transfer between both methods of transportation easily and both accept the same fare payment systems which include Ventra Cards, Chicago Cards, and Transit Cards. You can pick these Ventra cards and Transit cards up at train stations and many local retailers. Chicago Cards have to be purchased online.

CTA Trains

Chicago’s train system (made famous in the movie The Fugitive) is locally known as the L. While most cities’ train systems run underground, much of the lines in Chicago are elevated. Using the L is pretty straight forward, each line is designated a color and they list the name of the last stop so you can easily determine the direction the train is headed in. There are 8 lines all together Green, Yellow, Red, Brown, Pink, Purple, Blue and Orange. The Red and Blue lines are open 24/7, convenient when you’re spending a night on the town. The Orange line will take you to the Chicago Midway Airport and the Blue line will get you to O’Hare Airport.

A full fare ticket costs $2.25 and you pay by swiping your card or ticket at the turnstile before you reach the boarding platform.

CTA Buses

The bus system in Chicago is extensive. There are dozens of bus routes and hundreds of bus stops located throughout the city. Bus stops are denoted by blue and white CTA signs, which show the bus routes that stop at that location. Bus routes are numbered, and buses generally come along every 10-20 minutes. There are a few routes that run 24 hours a day – these are called OWL routes.

Fares for bus transit are $2 per ride. When traveling by bus, you pay onboard. There are a number of payment options, and all methods accepted by the train are accepted on the bus. Unlike the train, the bus accepts cash payment, though please be aware, when you pay by cash, you pay an extra .25 cents and you cannot transfer buses.


The Metra is a line of commuter trains that start from the heart of downtown Chicago and extends out into the suburbs and some of the lines even extended into the states of Wisconsin and Indiana. There are eleven lines that depart from 4 stations in Chicago. Fares depended on how many zones you travel. One way prices range from $2.75 for Zone A and go up to $9.25 for Zone M. If you plan on taking the Metra regularly, you can purchase 10-ticket passes or unlimited monthly passes. Train tickets can be purchased at the station or can be bought online.

Chicago Water Taxi

If you’re heading to destinations along the waterfront, you can take in scenic views of the Chicago skyline as you sail along the Chicago River on a Water Taxi. The Water Taxi will take you to North Avenue and Goose Island, Madison Street, LaSalle/Clark, Michigan Avenue and on weekends it also goes to Chinatown. The price of a ticket ranges from $3-$7 depending on when and where you’re going. If you plan on using the water taxi more than once in a single day, it may be advantages to purchase an All Day Pass. There is no need to pre-purchase a ticket, you can buy them when you board the taxi.

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