Mexico City's emblematic Volkswagen "Bug" taxis, which have transported millions of people in the capital for decades, will be taken out of service later this year, the local government told Efe.

Authorities in this densely populated, highly polluted metropolis enacted an ordinance in 2008 mandating the removal by 2012 of all public-transport vehicles that are at least 10 years old.

The popular Bugs, known as "vochos" in Mexico, "will be taken out of service for being highly polluting and because their lifespan has run out," Mexico's City's taxi services director, Victor Ramirez, told Efe.

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The official said over the past few years the iconic taxes have gradually been replaced by more modern vehicles and now just 3,500 VW Beetles need to be retired.

These roundish, two-door cars, which ceased to be manufactured in 2003 and are now impractical due to the difficulty of finding spare parts, were at one time considered ideal cabs because of their durability and fuel efficiency.

"The new ordinance establishes a maximum useful life for public transport (vehicles) of 10 years" and states that for reasons of passenger safety and convenience taxis also must have four doors and a trunk, Ramirez said in a phone interview.

He added that Bug owners can exchange them for other vehicles with the help of a credit program run by the Mexico City government and state-owned development bank Nafinsa.

Under this program, owners can trade in their old "vocho" and receive a 15,000-peso ($1,181) voucher they can use toward the purchase of a new automobile.

Some 138,000 taxis circulate daily in the Mexico City metropolitan area, which is home to some 20 million people.

Ramirez also told Efe that local authorities are negotiating financing arrangements that will enable old taxis to be replaced with electric vehicles in the mid- to long-term.

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The Bug taxis once sported a striking yellow color but were painted green and white in the 1990s in an effort to give them a more environmentally friendly image.

An estimated 30,000 taxis in Mexico City either operate without a license or are in the process of receiving one.

All private, new-style four-door taxis authorized to circulate in the capital have special license plates and a burgundy and gold color that make them easily recognizable.

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