Transportation in Chicago is very special as there is no subway system. Instead, Chicago got a large elevated rail system which is known as Chicago “L”. Other important means of transport include buses which serve more than a million passengers day by day as well as commuter trains connecting Chicago with its suburbs and other cities in Illinois.
As one of the largest cities in the US, Chicago needs a large and reliable transportation system. The so-called Metra is the commuter rail system with eleven lines connecting Chicago with its suburbs. The suburban trains operate quite frequently in rush hour, but not very often at other times of the day.
However, Metra is known for its reliability and punctuality. Depending on the direction of the trains, they either depart at Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station (exchange to Amtrak trains), La Salle Street Station or Millennium Station.
There is no subway in Chicago. Instead, the city has an elevated rapid transit system. The “Chicago L” with its eight lines and 147 stations has a daily ridership of more than 700.000 people on weekdays. Even though some stations are located underground, the Chicago L mainly operates on elevated rails and bridges.
Five of eight lines (Brown, Green, Orange, Pink and Purple) serve Chicago Downtown via the Loop elevated. Throughout the system there are several exchange stations, especially as part of the Loop. The Yellow Line is the only line of the Chicago L which doesn’t have stops in the city center. Instead, exchange is only possible to the blue and red line at Howard Station in the north of the city.
Even though the Chicago L system is very extensive, bus services are still the most important means of transport in Chicago. In total, there are more than 1.200 normal buses and more than 1.000 express buses serving several thousand stations in the city. Buses operate quite frequently, especially on weekdays. Services are generally very reliable, but reliability may vary depending on the traffic in the city.
There are so-called “Owl Services” which operate at nighttime as well. Tickets may be purchased at the driver (no change) or at one of the Chicago L stations. Tickets purchased with a so-called Ventra Card are cheaper than one-way tickets. However, the Ventra Card comes with a fee of 5 US-Dollar each, making it only a good deal when taking the Chicago L or buses quite frequently.
The public transportation system in Chicago is not the easiest one to get along with. However, it is useful to take some time to learn more about it as taxis as an alternative means of transport are very expensive. The minimum fare is 2.25 US-Dollar (~ 2 Euro) and every further 1/9 mile travelled is charged 0.20 US-Dollar (~ 0.18 Euro).
There is also a fee for passengers starting with 1 US-Dollar (~ 0.90 Euro) for the first one and 0.50 US-Dollar (~ 0.45 Euro) for any additional adult. Tolls are to be paid by the passenger. There is also an additional fare for traffic jams. Even though taking a taxi in Chicago is quite expensive, it is also very safe and generally quite convenient.
Chicago is less touristic than cities like Boston or New York. Due to that, there are not as many alternative means of transportation as in other US cities. However, there are several options available including boat trips and water taxis which both offer brilliant views of the cityscape, rental bikes and passengers trolleys.
Some time ago, the city of Chicago offered so-called touristic trolleys which were offered free of charge. The program was discontinued in 2009. Nowadays, there are only payable options for city tours in trolleys or other means of transportation.