It goes a lot deeper than that. On the North American side of things, we are locked into long work days with many jobs not having mid-shift breaks, and many of those that do being unpaid. What people naturally want to do is spend as little of their time doing work related things as possible so that they can indulge in leisure activities. This means of course that people would want to spend as little time on a commute as possible. Here in North America, we are spoiled by highways that tear through downtown to drop cars coming from further outside of the city center to their places of work.
In the best case traffic scenario driving to work will always be faster than public transport because public transport has to make stops. We have some of the lowest commute times in the world due to our downtown highways and automobile use. Domestically, the cities with the best transit have some of the highest commute times because transit it inherently slower. Now because the time of commute is a part of the work day people want it to be as short as possible.
Introduce traffic from the other commuters and in some cases transit is faster but not in a lot as buses are stuck in the same traffic and trains have longer dwell times, etc. Yet transit still gets a higher mode shared in places where it’s good. This is because in short, driving to commute sucks, and taking transit allows it to feel less like part of the work day and more like leisure time for a lot of people. In other countries, transit commute time on trains is counted as part of the work day and compensated. An 8hr work day with a 1hr train commute each way in those places becomes 6hrs at the office, again making the transit commute much more desirable. This is in contrast to it being more like a 10hr work day here in NA. When work from home is introduced as a possibility, people here are for sure going to jump on the opportunity as it means they can get those 2hrs back in leisure time or additional work to make more money. Globally, this stacks up as well from this study.
Though European countries put the increased free time into care. These longer commutes are the norm there and people are more willing to make these longer commutes because they know they’ll still have the free time they need to feel more fulfilled.
If the T was fixed to make transit fast, frequent, and reliable, going in to work wouldn’t be as bad. And it’d feel better than driving.
TL;DR skip to here
Office return rates are lower in the US than the rest of the world because of the relentless work grind and lack of free time during the work week to do anything besides commuting to work and working. Make commuting less of a chore and people are more willing to do it.