Mexico City announced recently that it plans to retire the last of its iconic VW Bug taxis, as their cab licenses expire at the end of this year. Although the old-style VW Beetles are a much-loved symbol of Mexico City by many visitors, they are also quite uncomfortable for the many travelers who have been riding in them for decades.
Known as “Vocho” in Mexico real estate, the VW Bugs have been a fixture on the often-chaotic urban streets of Mexico City since the 1970s. At the height of their popularity in 2006, there were around 50, 000 of the little cars buzzing around the streets, but today there are only about 3, 500 left, out of the more than 130, 000 taxis in Mexico City.
The last VW Beetle was manufactured in the Mexican state of Puebla in 2003, the same year in which Mexico City began requiring new taxis to have four doors for safety reasons. These new rules and the lack of production mean that the cabs seen today were manufactured in 2002, and were granted a 10-year run that ends in December of 2012.
Although popular as a novelty, the bugs are crowded and bumpy, and most of the front passenger seats have been removed to allow easy entry and exit, which also presents a safety hazard if there is an accident, as passengers in the backseat can be thrown forward.
“If they slammed on the brakes and you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, you wound up in the windshield, ” stated Victor Ramirez, who is director of taxi services for Mexico City’s transport department. “The government mandated four-door cars, with trunks, to ensure passengers’ safety.”
Despite the potential safety hazards, many have expressed a sense of loss upon hearing that the VW Beetle taxis will be retired, in part because of their unique curb appeal, and also because they are economical to operate. The city is offering a 15, 000-peso credit to drivers who turn the bugs in, which they can use to purchase a newer vehicle.