This year, I became a commuter student, taking the hour and forty minute commute in from the suburbs each morning via the Metra to Ogilvie Transportation Center, and Ogilvie to DePaul. I had always taken the El or the bus from my apartments to campus, but now having a true commuter life had me thinking about ways to make my travel more efficient.
Here is a list of tips and tricks for commuting that may prove useful to you:
- Chicago is laid out as a grid system. This is a perfect way to always know where you are in the city. Chicago’s streets count down going west, east, north, and south until they hit zero. The zero mark on both sides is at the intersection of State (0 W/E) and Madison (o N/S). Heading west of State Street, the numbers count up (i.e. 800 W, 1200 W), and heading east of State street, the numbers count up (i.e. 8oo E, 1600 E). Heading north and south, the numbers also count up (i.e. 400 N, 1200 S). If you are heading north to south or east to west, the numbers will count down to zero, and vice versa. Here is a helpful graph.
- Have a map or GPS device with you in case you are lost and cannot figure out where you are. You can always ask for directions from helpful passerby, but it is always a good idea to plan your route through Google maps or another navigation system before embarking. That way, you know just where you are and where to go so you won’t be late or wander too far. It is always helpful to memorize notable landmarks on your walk to help you remember where to turn and cross in the future. If you do get lost, stop and consult your map or ask someone (i.e. CTA worker, passerby, a worker in a store) for help.
- Keep your valuables in an inside pocket, especially on buses and trains. Never put anything valuable in an outside pocket reachable by someone. A few people who had gotten their phones taken kept them in an outside pocket on their backpack and never knew anyone had unzipped their bag at all.
- Don’t stand in front of the doors on a bus or train. Chicagoans are always in a rush, and can be pushy and impatient if something is in their way on public transportation. If the train or bus is not very full and you aren’t getting off any time soon, either stand to the side or take a seat instead of hanging out in front of the doors. If you can’t help it and the train/bus is packed, don’t freak out! You’re fine—no one expects you to ride on top of the vehicle. Simply step out of the train or bus to let people off and get back on before new passengers come in. If you have a little space, you can also move away from the door, or if you are on the El, you can move to the other side of the train to let people off.
- Respect the rules of your transportation for a smooth commute. Talking very loudly on your phone, listening to music or watching a video without headphones, and taking up extra seats with your bags when you should offer them to a standing passenger is frowned upon and can make other peoples’ commutes irritating. Eating foods with strong aromas can be nauseating to some, too, so try and eat when you get off the train. A rule that many forget is that the quiet car on the Metra is supposed to be quiet during rush hour, as many people like to sleep on the way home. It’s a good place to go if you’re tired or want a quiet seat to yourself.
- When in doubt, bring layers. These unbearably humid days of summer have left me wanting to wear light, breezy clothing, but the air conditioned buildings and train cars beg me to bring a light cardigan or jacket. This can help you for unexpected drops in temperature, and you can always take off your jacket if you get too hot.
- Always carry an umbrella. This speaks for itself.
- If a train car is empty during rush hour, there is a reason for it. I learned this the hard way. When a Red Line train is packed full and there is a car with no one in it, there is a reason. Just don’t go in there, trust me. Find another car.
- Shortening your Metra commute. If you are coming in on a Metra line that passes the Clybourn stop, it will save you some time to get off at Clybourn and take a bus or an Uber to campus rather than heading into the Loop and doubling back on the El. This is especially helpful for days you are running late or days when you just don’t feel like dealing with the swarm of people in the Loop at rush hour.
- Make the most out of your sit time. If you have to sit for a long time before your Metra commute, Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station have great places to eat and read. Check out our article here to see the options available to you.
- Bring a good book or something to do on the train. If you are traveling far, a book can be a great way to pass the time. So can a screen and Netflix, as long as you wear headphones. If you would rather close your eyes after a long day, that’s okay, too.
- Carry a cellphone charger with you (and a laptop charger, if applicable). If you are spending long hours commuting and studying away from home, chances are your battery life will suffer. Remember to bring chargers with you in case you need them.
- Take time to look at what’s around on your walk. This way, you will know where to stop if you need food, and you will find interesting places to kill time. Not only that, but you will also you get familiar with your area, which is always a bonus.