Organised crime gangs armed with sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners are stealing tens of thousands of pounds from parking meters, a local authority has warned.
Kensington and Chelsea Council in west London said £120,000 has been sucked out of its machines in the past 12 months.
Criminals are smashing the meters open or drilling holes in them before inserting vacuum cleaner hoses, the council reported.
The council is considering ending cash payments to thwart criminals by reducing the amount of money in the meters.
It is urging motorists to pay for parking through its app or phone system.
More than 700 parking machines are currently in use across the borough.
Kensington and Chelsea Council’s lead member for streets, planning and transport, Will Pascall said: “We have gangs stalking the streets and smashing their way into machines to suck the cash out.
“We also now know from local police that this is funding further criminality in London, from drugs and trafficking to possibly violent crime.
“It is a trend we need to stop and motorists going cashless is one way we can help tackle this.”
“Cashless parking also delivers convenience to drivers, as they can start a parking session in a matter of seconds and use their phones to extend the parking from anywhere – even from their smart watch.
“They don’t have to worry about cutting appointments short to rush back to feed a meter.”
An AA poll of 17,000 drivers indicated that 70% are less likely to use a car park where only phone payments are accepted.
The organisation’s president Edmund King said: “It is a sad state of affairs when parking meters are being ambushed by criminals armed with sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners.
“Whilst there is merit in cashless systems and they are becoming more commonplace, we do still find that some older drivers prefer to pay in cash or with contactless cards.”