Without knowing many of the facts and assuming the worst whenever possible, I'd like to go on record as saying that automating the L train is not indicative of good city planning.
Not that conductors are the most forthcoming people in the world but in my youth, I took great comfort in the presence of three adults on any given train. In an emergency, you knew that someone would give you some kind of straight answer if pressed. Hearing the robots on the current L say 'Ladies and Gentleman, we apologize for the delay,' is pretty much all you're going to get in most situations. I like a little more info and human feeling with my claustrophobia. But that's just me.
The L train is already one of the best trains in the city. Maybe the best. Even with the delays and the disruptions (results of the preparation for automation, no? Don't look it up. Just assume.), it is leaps and bounds better than a train like the G and generally runs much more often than an inconsistently scheduled line like the N/R/W/Q. The Never/Rarely/Whenever/(un)Quickly line.
Ignoring the fact that robots should never control large groups of people moving very quickly through narrow tunnels, it seems like a curious expense when there are other, more glaring MTA problems in need of dough. Again, I'm picking on the G train. Sure, during rush hour it seems like it's a regular train line (a tinier one). But holy fuck is that a bad train late at night. One might argue that people don't take it late at night so screw the people who do but one might counter-argue that fixing up the G would bring people back to the fold. Were people ever in its fold? Probably not. But I know a lot of people blowing cash on taxis every night who might appreciate a better scheduled, better smelling, slightly shinier G. And if you don't want to do it for the gentrifiers, stop punishing the people who travel only between Queens and Brooklyn. Just because it doesn't go through Union Square doesn't mean it must always exist in a state of disrepair. Yes, that rhymed. And yes, you can put that on your large, wordy protest sign.
First problem to solve: Any train problem. Make all the trains awesomer. Sure, most of them are good and come fairly often but if I have to wait twenty minutes for a stupid N train and then see like four pass right in a row, I'll... I'll... read more of my book and sigh even louder! Same goes for most buses. Four double buses showing up at my stop at the same time do not soothe the hurt of a long wait.
But Cas, if you get on the N train, how do you know four come all at once right after that? Good question. Never ask it again.
Next problem: The L.I.E is terrible. Make the L.I.E much better. Make it so less people fly into a stroke-inducing rage when confronting the wads of mysterious construction-related traffic. At least build a sign that tells the people in traffic that the construction causing it is for a specific reason. I mean, don't just say that. Tell the reason. I need to know why I am pounding the ceiling of my station-wagon in the parking lot that is the L.I.E most days. I used to work on Long Island and commute there every day. I also used to have a problem with blood pouring out of my ears. Right after the former changed, the latter cleared up.
I'm pretty sure the MTA doesn't control the L.I.E but I think helping them achieve this goal with some of the money allocated to robots would be a better investment towards a more mentally healthy NYC.
Last problem (tie): Homelessness. Hunger. Pollution. Poverty. Expensive Knicks tickets. Crime. Anything where money will help people directly. Seriously, how are we spending anything on building better robots when fundamental problems exist in the city's infrastructure? I know these are all different extensions of the city's budget and that bureaucracy makes it tricky to take money from one end and move it to the other. But robots?!? Would any L rider choose this over solving ANY OTHER PROBLEM in New York? I mean, is the lack of robots in the subway a major problem?
When all these problems are solved, I'll be the first one to shake that robot conductor's cold, steel hand and ask that they spare my loved ones when they take over.