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Chicago has a comprehensive and efficient network of public transportation. The city is home to the second-largest public transportation system in the USA, consisting of a large network of buses and trains. Some forms of public transport run 24 hours a day.
Chicago's well-integrated public transport network is operated by several entities, all of which fall under the umbrella of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is responsible for most of the city's buses and trains, with additional services provided by Metra Commuter Rail and Pace Suburban Bus.
The availability of good public transport reduces the need to drive, especially in terms of commuting in and out of the city centre. However, new arrivals with children or who plan on travelling to other parts of the USA may still find that having a car is useful.
Public transport in Chicago
Those who plan on travelling regularly should get themselves a Ventra Card. This is a smartcard system allowing commuters to simply tap in and out when boarding or disembarking from a train or bus. Travel passes or credit can be loaded onto the card, either online or at a machine. Ventra Cards can be used on all forms of CTA, Metra and Pace transport.
Buses are the most commonly used mode of transport in Chicago and are run by both the CTA and Pace. They serve local communities and help commuters move across the city. There are also a number of express services available. The frequency of buses varies depending on the particular route and the time of day.
Known as 'the L' (for 'elevated'), Chicago's rapid transit system is extensive. Managed by the CTA, the L is made up of eight lines, each of which is associated with a particular colour. The Red and Blue lines offer 24-hour service.
Metra operates a commuter rail service consisting of 11 lines, covering outlying suburbs. Metra trains are generally fast and reliable, although trains arrive less frequently outside of peak hours.
Taxis in Chicago
As with other big US cities, taxis provide a convenient way to get around Chicago. In the city centre, taxis can easily be hailed from the side of the road. However, those living further away from the city centre should consider pre-booking a taxi ahead of time. Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft are often the easiest and most efficient way to do so.
Cycling in Chicago
Chicago has a national reputation as one of the best large cities in the USA for cycling. There are more than 2,000 miles (322 km) of cycle paths in Chicago. There are also bike racks and sheltered, high-capacity bicycle parking areas at many rail stations. This allows cyclists to cycle for part of their journey and then hop onto a bus or train for the remainder.
Driving in Chicago
It's generally best to avoid driving in the city centre of Chicago. Even locals who have cars don't generally use their vehicles to commute into the city.
Traffic can be awful and parking can be very expensive. Even outside Chicago’s city centre, parking is not readily available. Furthermore, there are lots of parking restrictions in place. These rules are constantly enforced in the form of parking fines and towing.
Local drivers are also known for driving aggressively, especially on Chicago’s expressways. Drivers will be pleased to know, however, that road conditions and signage are of a good standard in Chicago.
Are you an expat living in Chicago?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Chicago. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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