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Chicago Transportation

Getting There

Airport
Chicago transportation isn’t difficult to access. Two airports serve Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW). O’Hare, which lies roughly 20 miles northwest of the Loop, is by far the bigger of the two. The fourth-busiest airport in the U.S., it’s a hub for both United and American, but just about every other airline, from Aer Lingus to Virgin, flies in and out of here, too. The various Chicago transportation options make it easy to get from the airport to the city—you can take a cab, rent a car or ride the train.

Depending on traffic, a cab from O’Hare to downtown takes between 30 and 60 minutes and costs $40 to $50. It takes about the same amount of time, but much less money, to take the Blue Line elevated train to downtown, at $2.25 a ride. The much smaller Midway lies about 10 miles southwest of downtown. Southwest, AirTran and Delta are the big carriers here. A cab ride to downtown takes 30 minutes or so and runs about $30. Or you can easily take the Orange Line elevated train for $2.25.
Train
Several Amtrak trains go to Chicago, including ones from New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans and other major cities. Wherever your train starts from, it will end up at downtown’s Union Station, a temple-like, 1920s-era edifice that also serves the Chicago commuter train line, Metra. Once you arrive at Union Station, there should be plenty of cabs waiting outside, or you can walk a few blocks to the nearby Clinton Blue Line station to travel elsewhere in the city.
Bus
Probably the cheapest way of traveling to Chicago is via Megabus, a bus line that connects Chicago with several Midwestern and East Coast cities. Although we’ve never succeeded in scoring one of these deals, legend has it that if you buy your ticket far in advance, it’s possible to score a seat for $1 to $15. Even if you don’t manage to score one of those bargains, Megabus’ regular ticket prices, which top out around $30, are still rock-bottom compared to what you’d shell out for an airplane or even a train ticket. The stop for all Megabus arrivals and departures in Chicago is just outside Union Station. Greyhound also serves Chicago; the station is downtown at 630 W. Harrison St.

Getting Around

Taxis
Taxis are easy to hail from the street in the downtown area and in most neighborhoods on the North Side. Most cabs in Chicago are yellow, with the name of the company painted on the door and a light on top of the roof. Don’t bother trying to hail a cab if its light is out—that means it has a passenger already. You can also order a car by calling one of the cab companies, such as Yellow Cab (312-829-4222) or Checker Cab (312-243-2537). You’ll pay $2.25 for the first ninth of a mile, then $0.20 for each additional ninth of a mile, with small surcharges for additional passengers or luggage. When gas prices are high, the city allows cabs to charge $1 extra as a fuel surcharge, too. Tipping 15-20% is customary.
Driving
Driving in Chicago can be a real pain—especially downtown, where the traffic is congested, other drivers can be aggressive, and parking is expensive and hard to find. Even outside downtown, many neighborhoods that get a lot of visitors have limited parking for non-residents. If you do manage to find a spot, check and double-check the signs to make sure it’s not a street-cleaning day and that no residential permit is required. We suggest skipping the rental car altogether and relying on public transportation, walking and taxis. If you do drive here, note that driving while talking on a cell phone here is illegal without a headset.
Public Transit
The Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago’s public-transportation system, has two components: the "L" (short for “elevated train”) and buses. Both are handy, safe ways to get around town. To find out exactly how to get from one street address to another on CTA, visit tripsweb.rtachicago.com. You can see a system map of the eight different "L" lines, which are named after colors, and order a preloaded fare card at www.transitchicago.com. Fare cards are also available for purchase in "L" stations. A single ride is $2.25. If you transfer to another "L" line or a bus, you’ll pay an additional 50 cents for up to two transfers within two hours of your first ride.  


City buses accept the same fare cards as the "L." A bus ride costs $2 if you’re paying with a fare card, with an additional 25 cents for up to two transfers within two hours of your first ride. Unlike the "L," buses do accept cash, but you must have exact change—$2.25—and you don’t get any transfers. See a bus route map at www.transitchicago.com. Note: If you have a mobile phone with Internet access, bookmark www.ctabustracker.com; it provides up-to-the-minute bus times, so you can find out exactly when the next one on your route will be coming along.  

 

Useful information:  

You’ll probably find the Blue and Red Lines of the "L" most useful—the Blue for getting to and from O’Hare Airport and anything west of downtown; the Red for traveling to North Side neighborhoods from downtown. Both run 24/7. CTA passes that offer unlimited "L" and bus rides for 1, 3, 7 or even 30 days are available at www.transitchicago.com. While the "L" is generally safe, in case of emergency you can press a button near the door to communicate with the driver. On buses, an electronic screen near the front will display the name of each upcoming street; some buses also announce each stop aloud. To request a stop, pull one of the cords above the windows until you hear a “ding” sound. Bus etiquette mandates that you make your way as far to the back of the bus as possible after boarding so that you don’t block the aisle. It’s also customary to give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant or disabled. In addition to the "L," there is another, entirely separate train system called Metra that runs mostly to the suburbs and serves mostly commuters. Metra is much faster than the "L," but it’s a little more expensive and it makes much more limited stops.
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