Red Line…Blue Line…What? Chicago’s Public Transportation System

Red Line… Blue line…what? Ask a Chicagoan for directions and your bound to get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” and just walk over to the “Bean”.



Warm weather, beaches and fun festivals; Summer is the best time to visit Chicago!  Must see for visitors are Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Jazz Fest and of course the Taste of Chicago. Currently hotels in Chicago are offering a number of discounts and specials to draw visitors to this great city. When deciding on where to stay in Chicago, transportation options and what you want to do while on vacation are important factors to consider. For example, staying out by O’Hare Airport might save some money, but be prepared to take a 30-40 minute train ride into  downtown. But don’t worry with some careful planning and a basic understanding of the transportation system visitors will be able to pick the right location for their visit and check out all of Chicago’s main sights-no stress involved.

The Chicago Transit Authority Bus and “L” System for Tourists

Ask a Chicagoan for directions and you can get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” or walk over to the “Bean”.  Once you learn the lingo-the system is actually quite easy to follow. The “L” is Chicago slang for the Elevated trains that run North and South to various points in the city. The colors correspond to the lines and its destinations. There are actually 8 different “L” lines, but most tourists will probably only use the Blue Line, the Red Line and the Brown Line trains. The Blue Line starts out on the far North side at O’Hare airport, heads South through the downtown area and ends at Forest Park. The Red Line, which runs from North Chicago starting at Howard through the downtown area and ends in South Chicago at 95th. This line hits both major ball parks: Wrigley Field (Addison exit) and US Cellular Field (Sox-35th exit). The other frequently used line is the Brown Line which runs between Kimball on the North end to the Loop Downtown.

The "L"

The “L”

How to Get to Chicago from Midway or O’Hare Airports

The “L” train is also the cheapest and often fastest option for travel to and from both airports into Chicago. Taking a cab is the most expensive option. Expect to pay $30.00 to $50.00 for a taxi depending on which airport and your final destination. The “L” is the best deal at $2.25 a fare!

From O’Hare, visitors can easily take the Blue line into the city. If you arrive at terminals 1, 2 or 3, look for the signs that say “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” These will take you straight to the “L” station. From airport terminal 5 you will have to take the Airport Transit System (ATS) to Terminal 2, and then simply follow the signs to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” Travel from O’Hare to Downtown takes about 45 minutes.

For tourists flying into Midway, the Orange Line offers a direct route from Midway into the downtown area of Chicago. Once off the plane or out of baggage claim area, look for the signs labeled to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” There is also an orange line painted on the ground that will take you directly to the train station by enclosed walkway. The train travels Northbound around the Loop (downtown area) and then heads back South to Midway, passengers will need to transfer depending on their final destination. The trip into the Loop takes about 20-25 minutes. The Orange Line does operate daily and holidays but does not offer overnight service so it is important to check the schedules.

Chicago Bus and ‘L” Passes and Rates

Cost per ride either Bus or “L” is reasonable at $2.25 per single use, if you pay in cash each ride is 2.25.   Transit Card Vending Machines are located in all “L” stations and at the airports and accept both cash and credit. You cannot purchase Fare cards on the actual bus; cash is only accepted.

There are a number of day passes ranging from 1-3o days, that might be a better value if you are using public transit during your whole stay. CTA Pass Machines are located at both Midway and O’Hare airports, the Chicago Cultural Center, and CTA’s Lake, Roosevelt and Adams/Wabash rail stations downtown, they accept cash or credit cards and dispense a variety of passes including 3-Day, 7-Day, and 7-Day CTA pass. These types of passes allow unlimited rides for one person starting at the first usage. Most stations also have an attendant to offer assistance.

Train service on the Blue and the Red lines runs around the clock; including holidays. The Brown Line has limited hours and stops running around Midnight or 1:00am. Visitors should check the hours on the CTA website.

Chicago Bus Tracker for Tourists

To supplement the “L” trains, the Chicago Transit Authority has an extensive network of bus lines available too. Buses are easy to use in Chicago as they typically follow a straight path along one designated street as opposed to some other countries where the bus follows a route. This makes the buses in Chicago easy to use and bus stops are located on almost every main corner in the city. Keep in mind the suburbs have totally different system called “Pace.”

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has a great program accessible to any traveler called the CTA Bus Tracker by logging on to this site online or via mobile phone passengers can view exactly where their bus is and when it is coming. A great tool for those who have to endure waiting for the bus during the grueling Chicago winters.

Another great tool is the CTA Bus Tracker by Text. Users can receive texts with the estimated arrival times for their specific bus. Instructions are now appearing on all posted CTA bus stops. Basically locate the site ID located on the bottom of the CTA sign you are at, then text ctabus [stopID] to 41411 to receive the bus arrival time. Some buses do have limited hours so check the schedules posted on the CTA website. Both bus and “L” line maps can be printed or accessed online making sightseeing in Chicago easy and fun. Check out the CTA website for how to guides and schedule/route information.

Chicago is a world-class city filled with an endless variety of options for fun and entertainment. So whether you are heading over to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo or Oak Street Beach, don’t stress-hop on an “L” or a bus for a fun day in a great city.

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