Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mexico City's Volkswagen Taxis: Adiós a los Vochos

They are homely, cramped, polluting, and -- with their two doors -- a kidnapper's dream come true. But Mexico City's Volkswagen Bug taxis have been one of the city's best known icons for almost half a century. Love them or loathe them, these once-ubiquitous, green and white vochos (as the locals call them) will soon be a thing of the past.

In 2002, Mexio City's environmentally-friendly mayor declared the VW Beetle taxis nuisances and gave their drivers ten years to either turn in their Bugs to the government for a cash payment or keep them for personal use. He also decreed that all Mexico City's taxis had to be less than ten years old and have four doors. Adding insult to injury, the last Mexican VW Beetle rolled off the assembly line a year later in the city of Puebla, where they had been made since 1967.

VW Bug taxis are a bit more difficult to spot these days because Mexico City's entire fleet of cabs was repainted gold and maroon in 2009 to mark Mexico's Bicentennial. There are still plenty of vochos prowling the city's congested streets. But if you haven't had the pleasure of riding in a vocho yet, you had better flag one down soon. They will all have beetled off into the sunset by 2012.

SAFETY NOTE: Kidnappings and theft by phony taxi drivers in Mexico City are now rare. Nevertheless, I always make sure that the driver has an official-looking identification card with his photo on it before I get into a cab. Guidebooks usually recommend telephoning for a taxi rather than stopping one on the street. This is probably good advice, and it is definitely the right thing to do at night.

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