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Time up for Mexico's 'Bug' taxis

Mexico's capital is to exterminate its iconic Volkswagen "Bug" taxis.

The cab licences of the last of the old-style Beetles will expire by the end of the year, marking the end of an adventurous, if uncomfortable, part of Mexico City life.

The car nicknamed the Bug - in Mexico it's a "Vocho" - has long been an informal symbol of the sprawling city, a tough, rattling reflection of its gritty urbanity and chaotic streets.

At its height in 2006, the VWs accounted for almost half of all taxis in Mexico City, with about 50,000 cruising the streets. Today, there are only about 3,500 of the privately-owned and operated Bugs among 130,000 taxis.

Victor Ramirez, director of taxi services for the city's transport department, said time has run out for the classic VW design that evolved from the original Beetle of 1930s Germany.

The model has not been manufactured since 2003, when the last one rolled off an assembly line in the Mexican state of Puebla.

For safety reasons, Mexico City began mandating four-door taxis in 2003. So the Beetles that entered service in 2002 are the last to operate as cabs. Most car models are limited by the city to eight years of service as taxis, but the Bug was allowed a 10-year run - and that ends with 2012.

Despite their role as icons, the VW taxis have never won plaudits for comfort. Drivers remove the front passenger seat so customers can get in more easily, leaving only the ungenerous back seat.

And with no front seat, there is little to protect the passenger in the back, Mr Ramirez noted.

"If they slammed on the brakes and you weren't wearing a seat belt, you wound up in the windscreen," he said. "The government mandated four-door cars, with trunks, to ensure passengers' safety."

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