Who Takes the Metra Two Stops?
November 22, 2017 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm always curious, when I take the Chicago Metra, who takes it one or two stops -- from Union Station to Western Avenue, which is like 3 miles and there are cheaper buses. Or a little farther -- but there are still cheaper buses, and CTA train options. Have you done this, or do you know who does? I'm sure there must be a million reasons -- I'd like to know a few! Non-Chicago commuter rail answers okay, more deets within.

Okay so a monthly pass to take the Metra from Chicago Union to Western Avenue is $107, and it's 3 walkable miles, and there are buses that cover the same territory. I understand getting on at Western and heading out to the burbs, but people who get on at Union and get off at Western -- or vice versa! -- I'm sure they must have good reasons but I am having trouble figuring them out. Similarly, I'm curious about people who get on at one suburb and off at the next, for $107/month or more. Who are the people on the close-together stops and what is their rationale? They could be doing 3 or 4 stops ... most Metra lines to the suburbs have between 3-5 stops in Chicago before they reach the burbs, and they are always sparsely but definitely populated, with some people starting at Union and going to city neighborhoods, and some people getting on in city neighborhoods and going to the burbs ... or vice-versa on inbound trains. Tell me who they are!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Travel & Transportation (56 answers total)
posted by beerperson at 7:28 PM on November 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also buses suck
posted by stewiethegreat at 7:31 PM on November 22, 2017 [16 favorites]

Lots of employers pay for local and regional public transit passes. Cost is not a factor for many passengers.
posted by halogen at 7:35 PM on November 22, 2017 [26 favorites]

I don't live in Chicago, but Union Station sounds central - is that a connecting station with another line(s)? If so, then it makes perfect sense that people would be transferring there.

3 walkable miles

That's ... a pretty long walk for a daily commute. I once lived 2.5 miles from work and I walked it sometimes but definitely not when the weather was bad or when I was in a rush (which was most days, TBH). And if they're transferring from another line, then it makes perfect sense that they woulnd't want to take the train a few stops and THEN walk several miles.
posted by lunasol at 7:36 PM on November 22, 2017 [13 favorites]

Western to Union is 15ish minutes, right? Those commuters are paying $107/month to knock close to an hour and a half off their daily commute, which seems like a great deal to me. Plus, heading into December, you've got the added bonus of a train being both warm and dry.
posted by bassooner at 7:37 PM on November 22, 2017 [19 favorites]

It sounds like you think they're going work/home and vice versa, but maybe they're stopping off to meet someone or pick up something.

If they already have a pass for work/home then the extra ride is "free".
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:40 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I take the DC metro three stops, if that counts. There isn't really an equivalent bus, but the closest one would take about three times as long. I do like to walk, and it is about 2.5 miles, a really gorgeous commute along the river. But if the weather is bad, I'm definitely opting for the train.
posted by backwards compatible at 7:42 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

If they've got a pass they're not paying anything extra for that trip - in fact you could say they're "making the most of" their pass by hopping on and off as they wish.
posted by btfreek at 7:48 PM on November 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

I used to live halfway between the Metra and the red line. I temped, so where I needed to be varied. Sometimes I'd take the bus, sometimes I'd take the red line.

But when I worked a block south of Union Station, the big train would get me to that part of the loop much faster, plus the conductors wouldn't always punch my 10-ride pass, which made it cheaper overall.
posted by mgar at 7:52 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also someone may live closer to the metra stop than the equivalent CTA stop reducing walking time.

The CTA monthly pass is still 80ish a month, so it's not that much more expensive to solely take metra.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:55 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I was faced with walking three extra miles one way... Id budget in the 100 a month, no question. I'm on my feet 10 hours four days a week. No more cardio, tyvm
posted by Jacen at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

I used to live in Hyde Park (51st & Kenwood) and worked in the Loop. I could have taken the #6 Jeffrey Express, or even the #2 Hyde Park Express, but I wouldn't necessarily get a seat or the bus would not come on a reliable schedule. I already had to walk a few blocks to catch the #6 and the stop was right next to the 51st/53rd Metra stop; the Metra was reliable, heated or air-conditioned when appropriate, and I could almost always get a seat. I knew when I'd be getting to work; much less stressful than the CTA.
posted by mogget at 8:08 PM on November 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

I don't know a thing about Chicago, but I do know that in California's East Bay, public transportation is highly segregated along racial and class lines; maybe there are parallels to be made?

Outside of the several-miles zone in which UC Berkeley students take the bus, I (white, middle class by many definitions if not economically) often find myself the only white person on the bus, or the only white person who's not very evidently down and out. Meanwhile I'll be surrounded by a much more class-diverse cross section of POC. Compare that to BART, which is faster and may be more reliable in terms of schedule/frequency, though not always, but offers limited stops. I see far more white people on BART, and the demographic as a whole seems to skew much younger and more middle class across racial lines.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:12 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Metra is just so much faster. A few scenarios (I live in Ravenswood, FWIW, so these are all 1-3 stop trips):

- If I'm going somewhere downtown near Ogilvie, I will absolutely take Metra instead of the CTA. It's like ~12 minutes instead of 45.

- Whenever I go to Evanston I take Metra -- to get there on the CTA requires a bus to the red line to the purple line and upwards of an hour travel time; on Metra it takes less than 10 minutes.

- I also take it to the Hideout, because the Clybourn Metra stop is waaaay closer than any CTA station.

- I also take it to Rogers Park if I'm visiting friends who live along the Clark corridor, or even to go to RP Social if the timing is right. Again, so much faster than taking the bus to the red line.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:13 PM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

" but maybe they're stopping off to meet someone or pick up something. "

Well, sure, there are always people on the train doing that, but there are also people who do it as a daily commute, and they are the folks I'm curious about! Today one of the few-stop guys was chatting with a friend and talking about how he was in college and going to visit friends at another college; that is totally clear and easy to understand!

"I take the DC metro three stops, if that counts."

No, I did that in DC too -- it's a little different taking the DC Metro a couple stops (or the Chicago El) vs. taking suburban rail a couple stops!

"I don't know a thing about Chicago, but I do know that in California's East Bay, public transportation is highly segregated along racial and class lines; maybe there are parallels to be made? Outside of the several-miles zone in which UC Berkeley students take the bus, I (white, middle class by many definitions if not economically) often find myself the only white person on the bus, or the only white person who's not very evidently down and out."

For sure there are both parallels and class components, but heading northbound (as we do on the train), buses and the El are also pretty white, and upper-middle-class professionals living in the city definitely uses buses and the El. I can think of commutes that would be much more classist, but heading northbound you're heading towards Wrigleyville, and Northwestern, and so on, where the white bros live!

(Like, from train-related eavesdropping, I think some of the few-stoppers esp. on the North and Northwest-heading trains are Spanish-speaking nannies who live in Latino neighborhoods, heading to wealthier, whiter neighborhoods that aren't too far away on the same line, but my knowledge of this economy is hazy at best.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't have experience with Chicago in particular, but here's a handful of possible reasons:
* Speed
* Convenience (e.g. stops closer to origin and/or destination)
* Waiting indoors for your ride versus waiting outdoors (not sure if these Metra stations are underground or elevated)
* Smoother ride & better standing areas (makes a difference when you travel at standing-room-only times)
* Predictability: train is more likely to be on schedule than the bus
* Relatedly, easier entry/exit for wheelchair users and those with other physical disabilities
* Race/class stigma about taking the bus (even when evidence in front of them contradicts the notion that only poor people take the bus)
* On the train, I can switch to a different car if someone is creeping me out
posted by ktkt at 8:42 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah speed or convenience. $100/month is basically nothing to a lot of people, and time is worth a lot. I know this is my privilege showing, but I pay almost 3x as much for a commuting option that's more comfortable (I get a seat vs. usually not), has less walking on each end, and is faster, but the cheaper option is perfectly fine and serviceable. I consider this money extremely well spent (though frankly it doesn't really affect my budget).
posted by brainmouse at 8:52 PM on November 22, 2017

Perceived speed. In my town I see people get on the interstate at one exit and get off at the literally 3/4mi away next exit. Doubt it's actually faster, but plenty of people do it.
posted by so fucking future at 9:12 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Taking this as a context-free exercise (i.e. I know Chicago a little bit but have never ridden Metra), maybe their favorite mapping service told them to do it, and until they get to know the system better, that's how they'll go.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:15 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I used to live in West Town, the 65 Grand bus has a terrible schedule. And when you get downtown you’re still at 500N.

There’s no Green Line stop at Western so you’d have to go .5 miles back to California, and then the Green only runs the north and east legs of the Loop. If you work by the SW corner, i.e. close to Union, that’s another 10-20 minutes of walking. So people who live near Western Metra and work really close to Union, it makes sense because a few 10 minute walks or transfers each way really adds up.

I live two blocks from the Kimball Brown Line stop. It’s seriously faster to ride my bike 3 miles to Ravenswood Metra and take that than riding the Brown Line to the Loop.
posted by hwyengr at 9:37 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am not in Chicago but my work gives me a transit pass. Like was said above, it takes cost completely out of the situation, so short trips are no big deal, so you can always pick the fastest or most convenient option. In the situation you describe I’d definitely take the train over a bus.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:15 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

What is "walkable" varies widely, and you can't just look at someone and know their physical limits. There are so many reasons someone might only be able to walk a block or two, especially if they would also need to work all day.

I'm not in Chicago but around here the light rail is much more comfortable, both the seats and the climate control. It's easier to get on and off and the ride is smoother, both of which can be a huge deal if you have mobility or other pain issues. Trips are much quicker, it stays on schedule, and actually has security guards wandering through the trains and stations. Back in college when I rode daily (and was a vulnerable looking young woman) I had about one creepy encounter1 a week on buses, and none on the trolleys.

1No weird dude my dad's age, I'd really rather not come back to your apartment and show you how to cook that steak you are carrying in a bag with a bottle of whiskey. not even for 50 dollars and half the steak.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:37 PM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

I used to take the 5:04 UP West Line train every day, and 99 times out of 100 it actually left at 5:04. Not 5:03 and not 5:05. It was impressively consistent. A CTA monthly pass is $100. A Zone A Metra pass is $107. For that delta, I'd be thrilled to take the train rather than chance a bus.

Divvy or walking are theoretically possible, but on the 9th consecutive sub-zero day a three mile overland trip becomes soul-crushing.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:52 PM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Three miles isn't such a huge distance, but only if you have time. Most people walk a 20 minute mile even at a fairly good pace -- a 15 minute mile is what one aims for with brisk exercise-style walking, wearing sneakers and not carrying anything. And even then it would be 45 minutes each way. Walking 20 minute miles, or an hour each way, even in decent weather, is not a luxury I personally could afford when my most dear commodity is time. Imagine two hours a day, five days a week -- well, $100/ a month is much "cheaper" for lots of people than ten hours a week , or a full quarter of a 40 hour work week.
posted by velveeta underground at 11:11 PM on November 22, 2017 [15 favorites]

Buses can be a lot harder if you have one or more of the following:

balance problems (easier to stand on a moving train than a moving bus);

chronic pain (buses jolt you around a lot more than trains do, especially when bus drivers slam on the brakes/accelerator a lot, or take corners quickly);

wheelchair/walking frames are easier to get onto the train than onto the bus.
posted by Murderbot at 11:12 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

London has a lot of journeys by underground which are faster walking, cheaper/faster by bus etc. There are a lot of reasons for this:
- As mentioned above, class/race perceptions about who takes the bus vs the underground
- Usually more frequent service
- In winter, it's warmer waiting underground
- In summer, while the underground is the sixth circle of hell, there are some who consider this better than conditions in a Boris bus

But the really big thing is the underground map. It's a design classic for a reason - incredibly easy to use, it's the main method of navigation for a lot of people in London. This has been amply demonstrated when the underground has been shut following bombings - people who live and work in the city genuinely don't know how to get around without it.

(Of note also is that the underground is very disability unfriendly, apart from the newest sections - you are better using the bus in most areas)
posted by Vortisaur at 11:12 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I guess I'm a bit surprised that you're surprised? $100 a month vs. walking 3 miles one way, including on cold and rainy days would be a no brainer to me. I like walking, but only when I have plenty of time, and I'm usually rushing to work in the mornings / can't wait to get home in the evenings. I could say it was about my employer picking up the tab, but honestly I'd willingly pay twice that and wouldn't even complain about it.
posted by peacheater at 11:15 PM on November 22, 2017 [31 favorites]

Also, if Chicago's buses are anything like Boston's, I would never base a commute around them if at all possible. So unreliable!
posted by peacheater at 11:16 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

If this is a commute, they do it twice daily. Let's say it's an hour to walk, and 20 minutes on the train, including the average wait time? That's a time savings of 80 minutes per day, or 26 hours every month (over 20 work days).

That's a lot of time saved. Maybe they use that time to go to the gym, read to their kids, cook meals, or watch TV on the couch.
posted by reeddavid at 12:00 AM on November 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


A safe, faster, reliable method when others are potentially fraught with anything from weather issues to need-to-dodge-or-talk-to-or-interact-with-people-in-any-way issues? No brainer.

Daily life for those with anxiety or other types of concerns, need to keep things in safe zones and reduce any variables that may cause spiraling of worry etc.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:10 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I were an employer of domestic help, train or bus pass would be part of the package.

My kids take a suburban train two stops daily; school pays for a monthly pass.
posted by tilde at 4:51 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Three miles might be walkable on a pleasant day, through a safe neighborhood, in walking shoes, for someone in good shape with no time constraint. This does not describe the majority of commuters.

I'm not in Chicago, but like others above, my employer pays for a monthly transit pass. I live about a mile and a half from work and while I mostly bike, if the weather is bad or I've got too much to carry on the bike, I'll choose transit over walking, every time, and if given the choice, will choose underground/non surface street transit over bus, every time.
posted by basalganglia at 5:03 AM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't forget invisible disability. (I used to live in the Chicago area, took the Metra sometimes and would have to take it way more now.) I have one now, and I can't do weight-bearing stuff like standing or walking for more than twenty minutes without either a rest or lasting pain. (It sucks! Luckily, biking isn't weight-bearing in the same way and involves a different posture for the spine.)
posted by Frowner at 5:12 AM on November 23, 2017

I can think of multiple reasons.

1. Main arteries like Western in Chicago are notorious for bus bunching. It makes reliably getting to work on time pretty difficult.
2. Chicago buses are also often crowded and uncomfortable, especially during rush hour.
3. Many people are not about to walk three miles in their nice work clothing, especially in the winter.
4. Metra is much faster so you get an hour of your day back.
5. The trains are quieter and cleaner than the CTA.
6. Commuters on Metra are generally in a better mood than CTA commuters.
7. You always get a seat on Metra, so you can pull your laptop out and get 15 minutes of work done.
posted by lieber hair at 5:56 AM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not in Chicago, and only slightly familiar with Chicago, so at first I thought I'd pass on this question. But then while walking the dog, I suddenly realized that it is quite fascinating to think of how we make our everyday choices, and wether those choices are rational.
My normal job is 20 minutes by car or 40 minutes by bike or public transportation. However, about once a month I have some work at a place that is 2.6 km walking distance from my home. The best option is to ride my bike there, but my bike is broken. Almost always, I take the Metro one stop, for a walking distance of 1 km, or 12 minutes off my walk.
The first thing in play here is that I live at a distance from the closest Metro stop, so while there is a short distance between the two stops, I save some of the walking distance, as compared to if I walked the whole way. If I walk from home to the Metro, that only saves me about 5 minutes in time, maybe even less if it's outside the rush hour because you have to include the waiting time in your calculation. When I go home, I almost always walk the whole way. So why do I take the Metro on the way out? I don't know exactly, but it has something to do with my state of mind. Going out, I enjoy the change of pace and the people-watching in the Metro; going home, I like to walk as I reflect over the days work.
I have other options. The travel planner app suggests I go to a busstop five minutes from home, take a bus to the Metro station, and then take the Metro that same one stop. This saves me a whopping 12 minutes, and I do it if I am running late. The bus runs very frequently, but it is also always full of people, and to me a full bus is much more uncomfortable than a full Metro wagon.
I can also walk to the next busstop over, in about 10 minutes, and then take a bus nearly all the way to my destination. If I'm lucky, this will save five minutes, but this bus doesn't run regularly so there might be no gain at all in time. When I had a broken ankle, I would do this, though. Also this bus has free internet, so if I need to quickly prepare or send a mail before the meeting, it's a good choice.
Finally, I could take the busy bus to the Metro station and walk from there, this also only saves a few minutes, and I like the walk from home to the station better than the walk from the station to my destination.
Cost never comes into consideration. It's about 2 dollars pr trip. I think if I worked there every day, I would get a monthly pass or get my bike repaired. I don't think I would ride my bike in Chicago.
After writing all of this, I'm probably going to think about walking the whole way more frequently. So thanks for the question!
posted by mumimor at 6:04 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Couldn't they be buying the 10-ride passes instead of the monthly? I came here to say the same thing as mogget about getting downtown from Hyde Park, and that's what I always did.
posted by capricorn at 6:15 AM on November 23, 2017

I used to take a reverse commute on the metra in Chicago - Union to North Glenview. There were several people who commuted with me who then walked from Union to Ogilvie and took another metra one or two stops to where they actually lived in the city.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:27 AM on November 23, 2017

Re "3 walkable miles": Chicago is especially wonderful in the fall - typically crisp, sunny, and dry. For most of the year, unfortunately, a 3 mile walk will leave you something less than presentable.

Also, I suspect that many suburbanites won't be comfortable walking through some of those near west/west neighborhoods.
posted by she's not there at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I took the Metra from Ravenswood to Ogilvie every day for two years. I did it because I lived in very close proximity to the Metra Ravenswood stop but not particularly close to the CTA. It was a shorter walk to the Metra than to the CTA. It wasn't much more than the CTA for a monthly pass - at the time, $110 vs. $100 - for closer, faster, timely, cleaner service where I always got a seat with never an exception. One-way passes were stupid expensive, $3.75 versus $2.25 for the CTA, but monthly the extra was negligible and worth it to me. I got to sleep in a little later in the mornings because the train took ~16 minutes from Ravenswood to Ogilvie with 5-minute walks on both sides, versus 45+ for train from Arygle to Quincy on a good day with no red/brown delays and that doesn't count the 15-minute walks on both sides.

I'd also like to point out that "a walkable three miles" is a very ableist statement. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but three miles is far more than many people can walk, especially with work gear or in work clothes.
posted by juniperesque at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I think some people are just Metra People and some are CTA People. I never take Metra, because while yes the timetables are consistent you still have to arrange for your commute to meet those timetables - working 15 minutes late means waiting another 30 for the next train, or worse outside of rush hour. That inflexibility would drive me mad. But for some people that trade off inconvenience and the relatively minimal expense is worth the other conveniences, which could be numerable: speed of the actual trip, comfort, reliability, safety, minimizing walking distance on one end or the other, etc.

I used to live at Grand and Kedzie and take the Grand bus - it wasn't as awful as some have described but it wasn't great, either. The bus tracker app is serviceable but not always accurate, and there some times of day/night when the bus frequency is low. I've had to choose between rushing out the door and getting somewhere 20 minutes early or being 30 mins late because there's no bus coming in between, and that's not much better than Metra schedules. When I had just had knee surgery and was wearing a hip-to-ankle brace and using crutches, there were times people wouldn't give up and give me a seat. That bus is also FULL of high school students because of Noble Prep and other schools along the route, who can be rowdy, rude, and annoying.

There were even people who would take the Grand bus from points west and get off at Western to transfer to the Metra. The east-west transit options in that part of town aren't great, to be honest, and that walk along Grand or similar streets would be long, and unpleasant at best in parts. I mean, I walk a lot and I wouldn't walk from Western all the way downtown a single time, let alone every day in both directions.
posted by misskaz at 8:36 AM on November 23, 2017

3 miles isn't "walkable" to many people.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2017 [12 favorites]

Also someone may live closer to the metra stop than the equivalent CTA stop reducing walking time.

This was my first thought as well. I don't live in Chicago but I have family there - they're on the Blue Line but Metra is much easier to use if going to the Loop (station is much closer to their house, no stairs to deal with, not to mention that I think there's fewer stops).

Employer transit subsidies could affect it as well. I know here in DC I take Metro to work despite driving + parking actually being a bit cheaper per day b/c I get a fare subsidy. If I had to pay it out of pocket I'd be more inclined to drive or look for a cheaper option.
posted by photo guy at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2017

Also agree that a 3 mile walk is pushing it for a commute, even for those capable of it. I love to walk and but I'm usually in a hurry in the morning and have to look presentable when I get to work.
posted by photo guy at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yeah, re: the walkable thing, I'm a young able-bodied person who doesn't own a car and even then 3 miles (4.8 km) each way day in and day out sounds like a real slog. Not necessarily the exertion, but having to wake up an hour-ish earlier and get home an hour-ish later, being outside in bad weather, presumably walking alongside vehicles and breathing in their exhaust... Bleh.
posted by btfreek at 9:17 AM on November 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

AlexaSky: The CTA monthly pass is still 80ish a month

$100 for a 30-day unlimited pass.

Eyebrows McGee: heading northbound (as we do on the train), buses and the El are also pretty white, and upper-middle-class professionals living in the city definitely uses buses and the El. I can think of commutes that would be much more classist, but heading northbound you're heading towards Wrigleyville, and Northwestern, and so on, where the white bros live!

I don't know which northbound bus routes you take, but I commute home northbound on the 146 or the 36, and the riders are very much not majority white.

Metra is faster, safer, cleaner, and three miles is a LONG way to walk for a lot of people.
posted by tzikeh at 9:22 AM on November 23, 2017

NYC person here with lots of subway experience. I walk a lot and am in decent shape and relatively youthful, but 3 miles one way is definitely past my cut off point. In fact I usually average around 2 miles of walking just for the commute, eg., there is plenty of walking to and from the train already. In spite of MTA woes I will usually take the subway 2-3 stops (usually way less than 3 miles) vs dealing with crowds on the streets and stop lights. For a recent local conference almost exactly 3 miles away, I took the train 3 stops which took around 15-20 minutes total, compared to an hour walking. It was great! My normal commute is around 5 miles but takes a solid hour when service is average, longer when it's bad, which is often the last few years. Walking this would probably take me ~3 hours but I haven't tried. Jogging/running would probably take an hour but I don't jog/run. There would be serious elevation gain as well as tourism/crowding issues for my particular route.

2-3 miles with stoplights can be about half as slow as you would think because you can't exactly jaywalk across major avenues etc. Once it took me almost 2 hours to go around 1.25 miles when I had to bail on the train home due to service issues, because of the route - high traffic, lots of dicey intersections, and long waits at lights. Personally dicey intersections are the most compelling reason to stay underground - lots of people die every year being hit by cars and buses at major intersections. Compared to other cities like DC this isn't a lot and NYC has put thought and money into keeping the city walkable and bikeable but there are still areas (basically all of Midtown but also many parts north and south that are mobbed and or near the bridges on the east side) I would prefer to never walk.

I like to read on my commute and get motion sickness on buses, but can read on a train. I know lots of people like podcasts but commuters of all ages and apparent socioeconomic statuses (I say apparent because looks can be deceiving) seem to be glued to their phones/kindles either reading, catching up on emails, watching videos, or playing games. NYC subway stations on the whole are not particularly pleasant most seasons (100 degrees all summer, freezing cold in the winter, many are outdoors, generally extremely crowded) but at least you aren't actively rained on compared to waiting for a busy bus route, where generally 0-20 people will have space in a covered outdoor shelter. I generally only take the buses here if I'm going very east to very west, or occasionally something like south Brooklyn to Queens, since these routes are not served by the subway and/or you need to take very long, circuitous routes usually involving > 2 transfers.

I have only been to Chicago once but took the metra 1-2 stops a few times. It got me where I wanted to go faster and I didn't think much of it at the time, being a person who tends to either walk in foreign cities or take a subway-like object. It was also cold and windy. AFAIK the reputation of Chicago's system is pretty good vs LA for example, where I did not take the subway in spite of the fact that my friend said it was underrated, because the longest I had to walk was probably 1.5 miles and the weather was nice.
posted by love2potato at 9:44 AM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

There’s one trip for which I sometimes take the nyc subway ONE stop, which covers about 6 blocks. I often have a lot of pain and fatigue and those 6 blocks can really suck. (Though the stairs aren’t always a breeze, it’s really the time spent upright that sometimes would keep me from going anywhere.)

And even when I’m feeling super awesome, the time it would take to get theee miles in means I might find myself feeling terrible at the one mile mark. Some days I risk it, if there are multiple errands along a path, or going crosstown, where buses are often the best option and good luck with getting a seat/not getting elbowed in the ribs either way.
posted by bilabial at 10:02 AM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Three miles would take an hour for the average person in decent shape to walk in a busy urban area, and I know very few people that consider walking an hour each way to/from work reasonable, because of time/physical/weather constraints/issues. Trains are faster/more comfortable than buses . Lastly, there are many people that can afford this and consider it worthwhile to pay.
posted by bearette at 10:24 AM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looks like Union to Western on Metra is $3.75 and takes around 6 minutes. Union to Western via bus requires a transfer, making it $2.25, and will take around 35 minutes.

Round trip, you pay just $3.00 extra for saving literally an hour of time and the hassle of a transfer by taking Metra. Even for those who make minimum wage, an hour of productive time is worth far more than $3.00. It's a reasonable financial decision for any working person.
posted by eschatfische at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to live in Evanston and now live in the Bay Area. I took the Metra one stop (Main- Davis) or the Purple Line two stops (Main-Dempster-Davis). There's also a bus but I can't remember how many stops. Walking-wise, I think it was just about a mile from my home to my destination.

I honestly just took whichever one was arriving soonest. The bus I probably took the least because it was always super crowded with students, but the Metra also tended to "feel" faster because it's just one stop.
posted by sm1tten at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2017

Buses have to deal with traffic. Trains do not. Trains are far more consistent and reliable in any city I've ever lived in.

3 miles, personally I'd ride a bike and avoid both options.

Buses have always seemed like way more of a hassle to me. They don't stick to their timetables, stops are usually not sheltered very well in bad weather, they are much harder to get on/off than a train, it's much more difficult to read for me (the start-stop makes me sick!), the stops are ambiguous unless you know the line and neighborhood really well.

The bus is always a last resort for me. Buses are kind of terrible.
posted by bradbane at 12:25 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nth the train being more predictable on the timetable, and also the station being nicer to wait in than some crap bus stop.

I started out learning my way around in Japan by train station and vicinity. At first, I might have only known how to get to A from the next station, even though it was quicker to walk. That walk would be through unfamiliar territory and I might get lost or go down a dead end. On my free time, I might like to do that (and I did, and sure enough, got lost/dead ended a few times). I can't afford that when I'm going to work.

Turns out, the buses are easier and more convenient, but cryptic to figure out. A bus line snakes all over and there are a hundred choices and I always feel unsure I picked the right one the first time. I can totally see procrastinating on getting that sorted if money wasn't the issue. The train very obviously goes there, can't screw it up.
posted by ctmf at 1:15 PM on November 23, 2017

For me it's about saving time. I have a monthly CTA pass but buy Metra tickets ad hoc. I take the Metra to work once or twice a week. If everything lines up it's 20 to 30 minutes faster than the red line and to me that's worth the cost.

Likewise after work, if I'm going home I'll just use the red line. But I'll use the metra if I'm going to Ravenswood, Andersonville (save 20 minutes) or Rogers Park (save 40 minutes!!!).
posted by great_radio at 1:49 PM on November 23, 2017

I could take a cheaper CTA option, but the metra for me lines up perfectly with my work schedule, is faster, and very reliable. The metra station is also a bit closer to my home, but the shorter commute is really what seals the deal. When I've taken the El home I usually enjoy it (the operators have been charming and fellow passengers pleasant), but it adds probably about 20 minutes each way at least and I'll frequently get a bit motion sick.
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:12 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

As one of those folks performing a similar two-stop shuffle, I can give you my data points.
My daily route is close to the one described by juniperesque and goodbyewaffles: 10-minute walk between Ravenswood and home, 15-minute train ride, 5-minute walk between Ogilvie and work. My work hours match up reasonably well with the schedule for that train line. After four years of doing this, I understand the timing reasonably well.
By comparison, 10-15 walk between home and Red Line, unknown time waiting for train, 25-30 minute Red Line ride, 15-20 walk between Red Line and work. Or 10-15 walk to Brown Line stop, unknon time waiting for train, 25-30 Brown Line ride, 10-minute walk to work from Loop Brown Line stop.
Bus rarely enters into it - that would be 10-15-minute walk between bus and work, unknown time waiting for bus, hour-plus bus ride, 5-minute walk from bus. I've done it when I've gone to Chicago Comics on Clark, and I've done it in the wee hours of the morning when the Metra isn't running yet (which is the only time the bus ride is under an hour) but I'd avoid doing it daily.
Walking the whole distance - it's pleasant in spring and autumn, but anything under 60 F or above 75 F and I just don't have enough masochism to do it. In 21 years of Chicago commuting, I have walked home from work maybe 10 times, and walked to work exactly 0. It's simple lines on the map - walk to Clark, and head north on Clark. But, all of those times walking home - I stopped at Chicago Comics, which adds to time and money expended. ( :) )
Additionally, two different CVS stores in the Ogilvie-and-linked complex, in case I need to pick things up, plus the food court. (Which did have bad health effects that were borne out this year.)
On costs, Agent Rocket explains my logic well - the cost difference between CTA monthly and Metra monthly isn't enough to get me to switch.
On comfort, mogget and lieber hair explain my logic - Metra is usually easier to get a seat (unless Ravinia is in full swing). Plus, the Ogilvie end of the trip is warm. There exists little positive difference between waiting in the cold at Ravenswood and waiting on a cold Red Line platform. (CTA does have more and better little heated shelters on exposed platforms.)
And by comparison, for 17 years I used the Red Line to get home, when I lived in Edgewater: 15-20 walk between Red Line and work, 25-35 train ride, 5-minute walk between Red Line and home.
Granted, the lost exercise opportunities may have also added to certain health problems I had at the start of the year. So, I obviously didn't factor those in.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 4:56 PM on November 23, 2017

Thanks for all the data points! I understand much better now, my curiosity is satisfied! I always just wonder about other people's lives.

(And of course I know walking 3 miles isn't easy for everyone.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:14 PM on November 23, 2017

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