Well, it legally constitutes a misdemeanor
---so yes, any conviction or guilty plea will be on your record. If that is critical to you, then you should get an attorney to fight the charge as it requires that you intended to avoid the fare.
If you pay by mail, there is no need to write a separate letter to the judge. you either pay the fine and be done with it, or you go to the scheduled hearing.
So long as you pay before the hearing date, and you have proof that payment was received, you don;t need to appear. Don;t wait until the last minute though---if you make a mistake and then don't show up at the hearing you may have a warrant issued for your arrest on top of all of it.
You may reply back to me again, using the Reply to Expert link, if you have additional questions.Would you please rate me highly now, based on my assistance to you in understanding the law.
I wish you the best in 2012,