The Chicago City Bus System

chicago city bus interior

Ah, the CTA bus system… what a delight. Tessa refused to write this piece out of pure loathing for the Chicago bus system. I, on the other hand, am a proud rider. There’s no doubt the service can be spotty, and there have been major line cuts in recent years thanks to city spending cutbacks, but the bus remains a simple way to get from point A to point B. Many people get in a routine of taking either the L or the bus, depending on where they live in relation to where they work (and play). If you’re not near an L stop, don’t fret. Let’s talk buses.

The bus system is run by the Chicago Transit Authority, the municipal operator of Chicago mass transit. There are almost 2,000 buses in the system that operate as a part of about 150 routes over nearly 2,500 miles. Over 1.7 million people catch the bus each day from nearly 12,000 posted bus stops.

Buses go by both numbers and names; for example, the #8 bus is also known as the Halsted bus. It’s generally pretty straight forward, but if you get confused you can stick with the numbers. CTA buses don’t tend to twist and turn much — most lines run down the city’s main veins and stick to two to three large streets. Buses rarely run on smaller side streets. There are also several express buses that will make fewer stops, some of which travel along Lake Shore Drive.

There are three payment options when taking the bus: cash, fare card, or Chicago Card. One ride on the bus at the time of writing costs $2.25, and the first transfer costs $0.25. The second transfer is free, but must be used within two hours of the first fare. You can either purchase your fare card in one of the vending machines situated at each L station or when you board the bus.

When you’re ready to get off, be sure to pull the stop request cord that runs along the upper part of the windows, or push a stop request button, usually located on a pole near the rear door. If a stop is not requested and no one is waiting to get on, the bus will not stop. Unless the bus is almost empty, it’s usually best to exit at the back door, allowing people to enter more easily at the front.

In an effort to promote biking in Chicago, the CTA has created the Bike & Ride program, allowing bikers to fasten their bikes to the front of buses. If you choose to take advantage of this, always let the bus driver know before loading your bike — he may not see you! Then grab the center handle on the bike rack (located on the front of the bus) and pull down. Once the bike is loaded, give it a shake to make sure it’s secure. It’s recommended that you sit near the front of the bus to keep an eye on your bike, as locking your bike to the rack is not allowed. When you’ve reached your destination, exit through the front and remember to remind the driver you’ll be unloading your bike! (For more information on biking in Chicago, click here.)

If you do choose to join the masses that take advantage of the CTA bus system, you should definitely grab yourself a Chicago Card to make your commuting faster and easier.

You can also check out the CTA Bus Tracker for up-to-the-minute arrival info. `

Jackie Berkery

About Jackie Berkery

With a strong phobia of cubicles and those three little words (“nine to five”), I am thrilled to be working on UPchicago from the comforts of my own couch at three o’clock in the morning. I love to write. I love Chicago. Hello, dream job!

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