The Downside of Using the CTA

Because I have been totally reliant on the CTA for my transit needs since 1995 when I moved downtown, I have had numerous occasions to observe and complain to them about a variety of issues. One of my biggest pet peeves is the fare structure which changes so often I can barely keep up with it. And they do a horrible job of letting new riders know what the fare is at any given time from any location. The fare information is only posted INSIDE the bus, behind the driver. Five years ago I suggested to them that they post at least the basic fare amount at the actual bus stop so people would know ahead of time how much it will cost to board the bus. I can’t tell you how many times my bus has been delayed for people asking what the fare is then scrambling for the exact fare required. It’s SOOO annoying!

And I recently learned that cash is only accepted on the busses, and there’s no discount if you have to transfer to another bus to reach your destination. YUP! That’ll cost you a whole ‘nother full fare.

To ride the El/Subway, you must purchase a Transit Card. They don’t accept cash at all. The machines that dispense the card are conveniently hidden in the subway or on the elevated platform. Thankfully, you can also purchase them at most CVS pharmacy stores and currency exchanges. The Visitor Information centers also have a machine where you can purchase the cards.

While the many bus and train lines that operate in and around the Loop are plentiful and reliable, you can’t exactly set your watch by them. Sure they all have a published schedule. But as I’ve told many people: The CTA bus/rail schedule is merely a suggestion. Sometimes a bus meets the published schedule, sometimes it doesn’t. And in winter, it’s even worse. Once, I waited 30 minutes for bus that was scheduled to arrive at the stop I was waiting at every 12 minutes. When it finally did arrive and I asked the driver about the schedule, she said “Well, we don’t really have a schedule when the weather is bad”. It was only snowing, not even heavily, and the streets had been cleared and salted.

I’m constantly amazed at how far it is between stops with intersecting routes. There’s been a trend to relocate the bus stops at least half block from an intersection or the nearest train stop, so as to improve the flow of car traffic. Of course, this effort is at the expense of the lowly transit user.
While anyone can go to the CTA website ( for a plethora of information about how to use the system, that info doesn’t seem to be widely published. With all the tourist info magazines and websites there are about Chicago, I don’t recall ever seeing an ad for the CTA’s website. I don’t know how they expect people to learn about. And for those who aren’t internet-savvy, fuggetaboutit! My best advice to those folks would be to go to or contact a visitor information center. There’s a large one at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street. They also have a “Travel Counselor Hotline” at 1-877-244-2246. The center also has transit maps and people who can answer your questions about using the system. Oddly, they do not have any CTA staff people there. Probably just as well.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual and not those of StreetAdvisor.
1 person following
this discussion


Add a comment

Best Neighborhoods to Live In

Best Cities to Live In

Tell everyone what you love about your neighborhood!

Leave a Review

Have a question?

How are schools? Is the area safe? What about public transit options?" Why not ask our community of locals!

Ask Now

Selling or Renting Your Home?

Maximize the selling price of your home by sharing what you love about your suburb to increase its appeal...

Leave a Review

Corporate Relocation Manager?

Enable your employees to share local knowledge in a private, trusted environment with those relocating... while building community.

Learn More