Chicago public transportation

Figure out how to get around the city on trains, buses and bikes with our guide to Chicago's public transportation options
CTA train
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority
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Chicago's network of trains, buses and bikes might seem confusing, but it's downright intuitive compared to the public transportation options in other major metropolitan cities. Snag a Ventra card and you'll have access to CTA trains and buses, which you can use to explore neighborhoods like Logan Square and Pilsen. Hop on a Divvy bike and you can use bike trails to set your own course through the city. If you're feeling like a trip to the suburbs, board a Metra train and explore the world outside of Chicago's city limits. Allow us to help you make your way along the rails and streets with our guide to Chicago public transportation.

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Chicago public transportation options

A CTA Purple Line Express train
Photograph: Ben Schumin via Wikimedia Commons

CTA trains

Chicago's most iconic mode of transportation is the CTA train, also known as the El (short for elevated rail). To ride the rails, you'll need to obtain a Ventra card at a station vending machine, which can also be used to pay for CTA bus rides. It costs $2.50 to board a train, no matter what distance you're traveling.
Most of the CTA lines (there are eight of them) meet in the Loop—a circular section of track in downtown Chicago. The Blue, Red, Purple, Brown and Yellow Lines take passengers north; the Red, Orange and Green Lines go south; and the Blue, Green and Pink Lines travel west. You'll need to take the Blue Line north to get to O'Hare and catch the Orange Line south to Midway Airport.
You can find more information on the CTA website.
CTA bus
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Daniel X. O'Neil

CTA buses

It might not be quite as fast as hopping on a train, but CTA's network of buses can get you to parts of the city that are difficult to reach by rail. There are more than 100 bus routes throughout Chicago, which passengers can board at designated bus stops. Bus fare is $2.25, which can be paid with a Ventra card or with cash. If you're going to take a bus, you should probably download a transit app so that you can keep track of bus arrival times.

You can find more information on the CTA website.

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Divvy bikes
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Divvy

If you want to choose your own route through the city, consider taking advantage of Chicago's bike-share program, Divvy. There are more than 500 stations throughout the city, stocked with bright blue bikes that you can rent and return to any other station. At kiosks located adjacent to each station, you can purchase a 30-minute rental for $3 or unlimited 3-hour rentals over the course of 24 hours for $15 (credit or debit cards are required). You'll have to supply your own helmet, but that's a small price to pay for access to Chicago's many bike paths and lanes.

You can find more information on the Divvy website.

Photograph: Shutterstock

Metra

While CTA trains will get you where you need to go within the city, if you're heading to the suburbs, you'll need to ride on the city's commuter rail system, Metra. People who live outside of Chicago but work within the city use the trains to commute, but it's easy to use Metra to get to some attractions outside city limits. In downtown Chicago, Metra trains depart from Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station, Millennium Station and LaSalle Street Station. Tickets can be purchased at some stations or from a conductor on the train, and fares range from $4 to $8.25, depending on how far you're riding the train. On weekends, you can purchase a $10 pass that allows unlimited rides on Saturday and Sunday.

You can find more information on the Metra website.

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