First off, I want to thank the Chicago Transit Authority for providing a method of transportation that’s reliable and readily available. CTA, you made my trip planning a lot easier.
You see, here at home we have IndyGo that runs routes only once an hour. You miss the bus and you’re stuck there at the stop for an hour. I used to think that was already convenient enough, but ever since I experienced CTA, my opinion changed. Now to be fair, IndyGo is probably better off running once an hour instead of running several times and losing profit. At least Indianapolis is trying to provide us something, and I appreciate that.
I first noticed how expansive CTA really was when Wade and I were eating a quick lunch at Quiznos. I saw Bus 151 about three to four times within a five-minute span. That’s quite a lot! The actual physical bus wasn’t the same each time I saw it, so it definitely was not the same bus running around in a small circle. I quickly got used to this convenience and really took advantage of it. Eventually I stopped paying attention to the specific times on my printouts and just followed the general directions instead (bus number, route, etc). It didn’t matter if we just missed the bus by seconds because usually another bus for the same route was around again after a few minutes. I believe the most we had to wait for a bus after missing it was around ten minutes.
Let me talk about the printouts I mentioned earlier. CTA’s website allows passengers to plan their trips in advance by inputting the origin and destination addresses on either Google Transit or GoRoo. Google Transit proved to be more user-friendly to me so I stuck to that and printed directions to and from various destinations. With these printouts in hand, I felt ready to tackle the streets of Chicago.
Not so easy. Clearly, there’s walking to be done in order to reach specific bus stops/subways and that’s where the problem begins. Some of Google Transit’s directions are inaccurate and confusing. There were several instances where the instructions directed us to head to a street that we couldn’t find. As it turned out, we had to trek through another street first before reaching the other street the directions were talking about. This probably would have gone easier if I had a map out or my GPS, but these won’t always help you if you were just trying to get to another bus stop/subway. Eventually I had to download a compass app for my phone to aid us in going to the right direction since Google’s instructions always begin with “Head North/South/East/West etc…”. I never really understood how you were supposed to translate that especially when the street you were supposed to head to wasn’t visible right away. I thought the compass app would solve my problems but instead of finding the right way, we actually ended up heading the wrong way. What a pain. I’ll give Google Transit the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s my fault.
Thankfully, CTA is so popular in Chicago that we can easily get directions from the locals. I found ourselves stopping several times and entering various business establishments just to ask a nearby employee for directions. Eventually we found what we were looking for, thanks to their help.
The train system, on the other hand, is not as readily available on the streets as bus stops are. Depending on where you are, you may or may not have to take a bus just to reach the nearest appropriate train station. CTA operates a total of 8 lines: red, blue, brown, orange, green, pink, yellow, and purple. Purple only operates at downtown during rush hour. The train lines also give passengers the ability to transfer from one line to another via certain connecting stops. We were always on the red line via Grand-Red because it was only a few blocks away from our hotel.
The trains run within 6 or so minutes of each other, which means that you only have to wait a little bit if you have missed the previous one. The travel is definitely quicker because there’s no traffic to worry about, just the stop from station to station which only takes a couple of seconds anyway. It gets quite loud on the tracks especially when it’s speeding uphill or turning. I am amazed how some babies can sleep through that noise.
I wasn’t really sure how each trip would have been had I paid in cash because CTA had specific fares for transfers and round-trip. I made our lives easier and bought us each a 3-day pass ($14.00 each) which gave us unlimited bus and train rides. The only restriction was that we couldn’t use the same card twice in the same bus/train station within 30 minutes of each other. This isn’t really too much of a pain with trains because you can easily loop around to get to the other side of the ramp, but as for buses you either ride it out till it turns around or figure something else out. The CTA has a fare store for you to purchase all sorts of passes and transit cards depending on what you need.
Last but not the least, CTA employees are all helpful; they will gladly point you to the right direction. I saw various bus drivers giving directions to passengers who were lost and confused. The train station employees also helped me figure out which way to go. So to them, I give my silent thanks.
I am so glad that CTA is there. Their frequent stops within small intervals of each other make Chicago seem less intimidating for first-timers.