Saturday 20 September 2008

Mexico City wants to destroy the "Bug" (MX)

In Cuba, the Volkswagen Beetle is called the "little egg." In France, it's known as the "ladybird." In Mexico City, the vehicle is called el vocho, converted into tens of thousands of green and white taxis that have filled the capital's congested streets for at least half a century. But if the city government has its way, the troublesome vochos will die.

"We want to get rid of them. This vehicle is now a nuisance in Mexico City," said Victor Manuel Ramirez, head of the taxi division at the city transport and road ministry. "The government wants to replace them with more modern, fuel-efficient vehicles."

Mexico is home to 1.7 million Beetles which were bought over four decades, making it the 3rd largest market after Germany and Brazil. The transport ministry recently said the vocho is a major contributor to the city's air pollution, getting only 19mpg compared with 34mpg by many newer models.

The ministry's recent decision to rid the city of all cars older than a decade by 2012 is a blow to the capital's 20 million inhabitants. They rely on some 100,000 taxis, 75,000 of which are older than 10 years and 80% of which are Bugs, ministry records show.

Other Mexican cities suffer from older, polluting vehicles, but the capital's leftist, green-friendly government has been trying to cut down on smog and high o-zone levels with such plans as rooftop gardens and limits on the number of cars on the road.

In the first stage of phasing out VW Beetles, the city is offering taxi drivers 15,000 pesos, or $1,500/£750, to turn their vehicles into scrap metal. Most taxi drivers appear to be on board with the program, though not all plan to turn their cars into scrap metal.

Cab-driver Fabien Fava, 25, who has braved Mexico City's chaotic traffic for four years, says he is ready to take the money. "I like the taxi-exchange program because the vochos are very old and very high-maintenance. You have to comply with so many regulations relating to upkeep when you own these cars," he said, referring to rules that require constant smog checks.
"It was the government in the first place that imported these cars, so it's their mistake," said cab-driver Erasmo Hernandez. "But I agree with the program. The cars are outdated and ... you can now get cars that are safer, bigger and more economical and comfortable."

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