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Public transport in Chicago - an expat guide

Posted by By Kirsty Parsons - November 19, 2014

public-transport-in-chicagoMoving to a new city is daunting enough at the best of times – but when that city in question is thousands of miles away in a whole other continent it can be even more so. One of the minor concerns you might be starting to have is how you’re going to get around once you get there – especially if you’re leaving your car behind and will be without another for a while. However, you don’t need to worry too much – public transport in Chicago is excellent, so you’ll never be stuck for a way to get from A to B…

Travelling by rail in Chicago

Home to one of the largest passenger rail hubs in the nation, train services in Chicago are exceptional – in fact, you can reach over 17 other major destinations in the U.S. from Chicago, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City, New Orleans, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates two different types of passenger train throughout the city – the Subway and the rapid transit elevated system, known as the ‘L’ for short. Rapid transit trains run every 5-15 minutes during the day and every 15-60 minutes at night. Lines are designated by colour – Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Brown, Purple, Pink and Yellow. The Red and Blue lines operate a 24 hour service, 365 days a year.

Travelling by Bus in Chicago

With more than 100 routes around the city, the bus services in Chicago are equally as reliable and fill in the gaps that the trains don't reach. Buses run every 5-15 minutes during rush hours and every 8-20 minutes thereafter. And with stops located every few blocks, you’re almost guaranteed to be within walking distance of one - wherever you move to in the city. As with the trains, there are also a few 24 hour bus services available, making it easy to get around at just about any time of the day or night. It’s worth noting, though, that you will need the correct change to pay for your fares on all buses across the city. Or alternatively, you can pay via the Ventra Transit Card – a pre-paid card that will automatically deduct the correct fare for your journey when swiped on entry and departure. This also works on the city’s trains, and is a much more cost-effective option for those using public transport in Chicago on a regular basis.

Public transport in Chicago - traveling by taxi

You’ll probably notice on arrival that there are no shortage of taxi cabs around Chicago. Generally, they are easy to hail and available almost anywhere at almost any time. When it comes to fares, taxis here often charge a base rate for the first 1/9 mile, then a further (smaller) rate for each 1/9 mile thereafter. It’s standard practice to tip your driver around 15-20% of the final fare, plus a couple of dollars per bag for any luggage he might help you with.
You should also be aware that sometimes a gas charge may be added to your fare, but this will always be made clear to you when inside the cab.

Public transport in Chicago - traveling by water taxi

One of the more novel ways to navigate the city is via water taxi. These are generally used more as a way to complement a day of sightseeing, rather than standard practice for commuting to work – especially when first getting to know the city. Chinatown, Museum Campus, Willis Tower, Michigan Avenue and Union State are just some of the city’s hotspots that can be reached via water taxi.

Public transport in Chicago - traveling by foot and bike

Outside of your neighbourhood, you’ll quickly discover just how vast Chicago is – making it virtually impossible for you not to use public transport. However, if you do want to get out and do some exploring in the fresh air then the city does run a Divvy Bike Share scheme. Day passes cost $7, which includes the first 30 minutes of hire, and thereafter you’ll be charged according to the length of your ride. Much like New York City, Chicago is laid out on a grid system, making it much easier to navigate than you might first think.


For more information on moving to Chicago or anywhere else in America, please see our Moving to the USA homepage, where there’s lots of useful advice and tips for keeping your move on track.

Topics: USA, Chicago, Expat life, Area Guides

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