With weather entering non-constant shivering temperatures, now is the time to get outside and hop on the L. Always there, albeit a few minutes late, the central focus of Chicago’s public transportation system has become a fabric of life for the Chicagoland area.
While most people are nonplussed by the idea of taking the L to get downtown, there are those who have never been on the famed train. For those unfamiliar with the system, whether that's your friend visiting from another school or simply a Northwestern hermit, some of its quirks can be intimidating. With that in mind, here’s some tips to make your first L experience as smooth as a Howard stop transfer.
Do: Get a Ventra card
Sadly, 2014 saw the demise of the Transit Card, a single-use fare card that became an iconic souvenir of Chicago life. Today, the only means of entering a train station is a Ventra card, a reloadable card that can also be used as a debit card. For one-time L users, a single-ride or single-day Ventra pass is available. However, investing in a Ventra card, which can be reloaded at any station or online, is the way to go. While it lacks the charm of the old card system, the Ventra’s convenience makes it a user-friendly system for train-goers.
Don’t: Hope for a miracle at Howard
Remember that friend you had as a kid who was really flaky and didn’t always show up on time, and even when he did show up, you still didn’t have that much fun with him? That’s basically what happens every time you get to the Howard station. Serving as the connecting point between the Red and Purple Lines, it’s basically a rule that you’ll wait at least 10-15 minutes to change trains. With that in mind, don’t plan on making a quick transfer between lines if you need to be somewhere on time, especially after rush hour.
Do: Use the Purple Line Express
Heading into downtown Chicago from Evanston? Your trip time can be drastically reduced thanks to the Purple Line Express. After completing its stops through Evanston, the train continues past Howard and bypasses all Red Line stops until Belmont. Not only does this drastically cut down on travel time, but the Purple Line’s entrance into the Loop downtown also makes it the best way to head into the heart of the city. The Purple Line Express operates until 9:30 a.m. and between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. in the afternoon from Linden.
Don’t: Use the L to get to O’Hare (and back)
Having a friend fly into O’Hare for Dillo Day, and they don’t want to pay for a taxi? While the L is often the fastest, cheapest transportation option available, it’s actually highly inconvenient between campus and Chicago’s largest airport. Instead, take the Pace 250 bus, which leaves from just outside of the Davis stop and heads towards O’Hare. Taking approximately an hour between the airport and Evanston, the bus is slower than a taxi but much better than the L, and at $1.75, an easy way to save for your Dillo beer fund.
Do: Steal an L map
Ok, ok, let’s get this out of the way: stealing is bad. Don’t do it. Period.
Still reading? Good. In general, the principle “Don’t steal” is the right one. But that shouldn’t stop you from coming home with your own personal L map, the ultimate Chicago keepsake. Of course, you must be careful, and this is only really possible later at night, typically while heading north after the Davis stop. Yet, for those dedicated enough, one of the staples of Chicago’s infrastructure can be yours. Just don’t blame NBN when you get caught, and don't tell your friends at DePaul.
Don’t: Freak out
Relax. The L is easy. Sure, you can’t really rely on the train to arrive at its scheduled time. Nor are you guaranteed a train that doesn’t smell like the B.O. of the thousands who have boarded it before. But that doesn’t mean the L should ever confuse you, or let you down. With only seven colored lines, there’s basically no chance you’ll ever get confused about where you’re going. And even if your train acts like a pregaming party crasher, showing up whenever it pleases and smelling of stale alcohol, it’ll be there. It may not be the most glamorous element of city life, but for millions of Chicagoans and tourists every year, the L is the way to go.