Research by Nexus showed that one million extra journeys were made on public transport in the four weeks to December 19, an increase of 6.4% on the year before.
Rising fuel prices, more bus travel by children and people choosing public transport for shopping and the party season are behind the rise.
And early indications are that many people stayed on public transport during January’s severe weather rather than risk driving.
Bernard Garner, Director General of Nexus, said: “Metro saw the largest number of passengers in a single month since 1990 before Christmas, while bus use was at its highest since 2000.
“People are responding to the good value public transport offers and big improvements in quality with bus companies investing in new vehicles and Nexus modernising Metro and bus stations.
“These figures underline the crucial role public transport plays in supporting the economies of our town and city centres – something we have boosted by freezing all Metro fares in 2010.”
Nexus research shows that bus passenger numbers grew 5.5% up to December 19 2010 compared to the same month the previous year – equivalent to 639,000 extra journeys.
Metro passenger numbers grew 9.8% in the same period – equivalent to 327,000 more journeys.
Fuel prices in the North East in December 2009 were an average 12.8p higher than the year before, at 108.7p – something which Nexus believes helps explain rising adult fare-paying passenger numbers.
The number of under-16s using bus in particular has grown steadily since Nexus introduced the £1 ‘Cat’ Child Allday Ticket on bus and Metro in 2008, while there has also been steady growth in free travel by people aged 60 and over and disabled passengers.