The Upside of Using the CTA
The bus and rail routes that operate from within and around the central downtown area are the most plentiful and reliable. Wait time can be from 5-10 minutes. Designated stops on a single bus route are located roughly two blocks apart. However, the distance between transfer points can be up to 3 blocks. Signs at each stop let you know which bus number/route to take to get to popular downtown attractions. The elevated and subway stops are further apart at approximately 4 blocks to a mile (8 blocks).
For residents (like myself who are not car owners), the CTA system is the best way to get from Point A to Point B. For a new Chicago resident or visitor, learning how the system works can be a daunting task! One cannot rely on a bus driver or a "rail passenger info agent" to provide detailed information. Many bus drivers only know the route they're working and may not be familiar with other buses that use the same route or intersecting routes. As for using the rail system, you have to actually go up to the train platform or down into the subway to find an agent to ask. Again, the agent may only know about the trains that stop at the station where they are posted.
The CTA rail system is THE fastest and most economical way to get from either of Chicago's two main airports (O'Hare and Midway) to the downtown area. If you have only 1 or 2 bags (or a bag and rolling suitcase) and don't mind walking a bit with it, this is your best bet! CTA doesn't charge you extra for how many bags you're bringing on the train.
As for learning how to use the CTA transit system to get where you want to go, portable maps of the transit system are available at both airports. They include information about fare costs, bus routes, and how to get to major attractions around the city. You can also go to their website www.transitchicago.com for the same information. The website also has a "trip planner" feature to help you plan a trip from Point A (i.e. your hotel) to Point B (i.e. the Field Museum) using the bus and/or rail system.
As a Downtown Dweller, I use the CTA exclusively as my primary form of transportation. It’s not perfect, but it beats the exorbitant cost of owning a car and downtown parking fees.