# The Chinese Postman Problem

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1 20 The Chinese Postman Problem Author: John G. Michaels, Department of Mathematics, State University of New York, College at Brockport. Prerequisites: The prerequisites for this chapter are Euler circuits in graphs and shortest path algorithms. See Sections 9.5 and 9.6 of Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications. Introduction The solution of the problem of the seven bridges of Königsberg in 1736 by Leonhard Euler is regarded as the beginning of graph theory. In the city of Königsberg there was a park through which a river ran. In this park seven bridges crossed the river. The problem at the time was to plan a walk that crossed each of the bridges exactly once, starting and ending at the same point. Euler set up the problem in terms of a graph, shown in Figure 1, where the vertices represented the four pieces of land in the park and the edges represented the seven bridges. Euler proved that such a walk (called an Euler circuit, i.e., a circuit that traverses each edge exactly once) was impossible because of the existence of vertices of odd degree in the graph. In fact, what is known as Euler s Theorem gives the precise condition under which an Euler circuit exists in a connected graph: the graph has an Euler circuit if and only if the degree of every vertex is even. 354

2 Chapter 20 The Chinese Postman Problem 355 Figure 1. Königsberg bridge graph. We now pose a related question about Figure 1. Starting and ending at point A, what is the minimum number of bridges that must be crossed in order to cross every bridge at least once? A problem of this type is referred to as a Chinese Postman Problem, named after the Chinese mathematician Mei-Ko Kwan, who posed such a problem in 1962 (see [3]). We will develop a method for solving problems of this type in this chapter. Solution to the Problem Before examining methods for solving Chinese Postman Problems, we first look at several applications of this type of problem. Suppose we have a road network which must be traversed by: a mail carrier delivering mail to buildings along the streets, a snowplow which must clear snow from each lane of the streets, a highway department crew which must paint a line down the center of each street, a police patrol car which makes its rounds through all streets several times a day. In each case, the person (or vehicle) must traverse each street at least once. In the best situation, where every vertex (i.e., road intersection) has even degree, no retracing is needed. (Such retracing of edges is referred to as deadheading.) In such a case, any Euler circuit solves the problem. However, it is rarely the case that every vertex in a road network is even. (Examining a road map of any town or section of a city will confirm this.) According to Euler s Theorem, when there are odd vertices, it is impossible to plan a circuit that traces every edge exactly once. Since every road needs to be traced, some roads must be retraced. We pose a new problem plan a route so that the total amount of retracing is as small as possible. More precisely, we have the following definition of the Chinese Postman Problem.

3 356 Applications of Discrete Mathematics Definition 1 Given a connected weighted graph or digraph G, thechinese Postman Problem is the problem of finding the shortest circuit that uses each edge in G at least once. We will now study several examples, showing how to solve problems that can be phrased in terms of the Chinese Postman Problem. The simplest case occurs when every vertex in the graph has even degree, for in this case an Euler circuit solves the problem. Any Euler circuit will have the minimum total weight since no edges are retraced in an Euler circuit. However, the following example illustrates the case where there are vertices of odd degree. This example will provide us with the first step toward a solution to the more general type of Chinese Postman Problem. Example 1 A mail carrier delivers mail along each street in the weighted graph of Figure 2, starting and ending at point A. The first number on an edge gives the length of time (in minutes) needed to deliver mail along that block; the second number gives the time for traveling along the block without delivering mail (i.e., the deadheading time). Assuming that mail is delivered to houses on both sides of the street by traveling once down that street, find the shortest route and minimum time required for the mail carrier to deliver the mail. Figure 2. Mail carrier s weighted graph. Solution: The total time spent on the route is the sum of the mail delivery time plus any deadheading time. The mail delivery time is simply the sum of the mail delivery weights on the edges, which is 217 minutes. The problem is now one of determining the minimum deadheading time. Observe that the graph has no Euler circuit since vertices D and G have odd degree. Therefore the mail carrier must retrace at least one street in order to cover the entire route. For example, the mail carrier might retrace edges {D, F} and {F, G}. If we insert these two retraced edges in the graph of Figure 2, we obtain a multigraph where every vertex is even. The new multigraph therefore has an Euler circuit. This graph is drawn in Figure 3, where the edges are

6 Chapter 20 The Chinese Postman Problem 359 be retraced and we need to minimize the total weight of the retraced edges. The following theorem, generalizing the idea developed in Example 1, shows an important property that the retraced edges have and helps us efficiently select the edges to be retraced. Theorem 1 Suppose G is a graph with 2k odd vertices, where k 1, and suppose C is a circuit that traces each edge of G at least once. Then the retraced edges in C can be partitioned into k paths joining pairs of the odd vertices, where each odd vertex in G is an endpoint of exactly one of the paths. Proof: There are two parts to the proof. First we prove that the retraced edges of C can be partitioned into k paths joining pairs of odd vertices, and then we prove that each odd vertex is an endpoint of exactly one of these paths. The proof of the first part follows the argument of Example 1. We choose an odd vertex v 1. Since v 1 has odd degree, the vertex must have at least one retraced edge incident with it. We begin a path from v 1 along this edge, and continue adding retraced edges to extend the path, never using a retraced edge more than once. Continue extending this path, removing each edge used in the path, until it is impossible to go farther. The argument of Example 1 shows that this path will only terminate at a second odd vertex v 2. The vertex v 2 must be distinct from v 1. (To see this, note that v 1 has odd degree in G. When the retraced edges are added to G, v 1 has even degree. Therefore there must be an odd number of retraced edges incident with v 1. One of these is used to begin the path from v 1 ; when it is removed, v 1 has an even number of retraced edges remaining. Therefore, if the path from v 1 ever reenters v 1, there will be a retraced edge on which it will leave v 1. Therefore, the path will not terminate at v 1.) We then begin a second path from another odd vertex v 3, which will end at another odd vertex v 4. (The parenthetical remarks earlier in this paragraph showing that v 2 must be distinct from v 1 can also be applied here to show that v 4 must be different from v 1, v 2,andv 3.) Proceeding in this fashion, every retraced edge will be part of one of these paths. The second part of the theorem follows immediately, since each odd vertex appeared as an endpoint of some path, and once this happened, that vertex could never be an endpoint of a second path. The following example illustrates the use of Theorem 1 in solving a problem of the Chinese Postman type. Example 2 A truck is to paint the center strip on each street in the weighted graph of Figure 5. Each edge is labeled with the time (in minutes) for painting the line on that street. Find the minimum time to complete this job and a route that accomplishes this goal. Assume that the truck begins and ends at

8 Chapter 20 The Chinese Postman Problem 361 Figure 6. Weighted graph for a linepainting truck, with deadheading edges. The key idea in the solution of the problem in Example 2 is finding a perfect matching of minimum weight, that is, a pairing of vertices such that the sum of the weights on the paths joining the vertices in each pair is as small as possible. To obtain such a matching, we examined all possible ways of matching the odd vertices in pairs, and then chose a minimum (i.e., shortest) matching. If there are n odd vertices, the number of perfect matchings to examine is O(n n/2 ). (See the Chapter Applications of Subgraph Enumeration in this book for a method of enumerating these matchings.) Therefore, if n is large, even a computer can t accomplish the task. An algorithm of order O(n 3 ) for finding a matching of minimum weight can be found in reference [4], for example. Extensions In each problem discussed in the last section, some simplifications were implicitly made. For example, in the mail carrier s problem of Example 1, we assumed that the person delivering the mail was restricted to traveling along only the streets in the given graph. Thus, when we minimized the deadheading time, we looked for the shortest path between D and G, using only the given edges. However, it is possible that there are additional paths or alleys (along which no mail is to be delivered) that will yield a shorter path between D and G. In this case we would need to expand the given graph to include all possible edges that could be used as parts of paths for deadheading, and then find a perfect matching of minimum weight in this new graph. There are several other considerations that may need to be considered in a specific problem. For example, it may be difficult for a street sweeper to make a left turn at intersections. A snowplow may need to clear roads along a street network where some left turns are prohibited, some of the streets are one-way (and therefore may need to be followed twice in the same direction), or parked

9 362 Applications of Discrete Mathematics cars may prevent plowing during certain hours on one or both sides of a street. Also, it may be wise for the mail carrier to use a route where the deadheading periods occur as late as possible in the delivery route. The Chinese Postman Problem can be even more complicated when handled on a large scale. For example, the postal service in city does not depend on one person to deliver mail to all homes and offices. The city must be divided into sections to be served by many mail carriers. That is, the graph or digraph for the city streets must be drawn as the union of many subgraphs, each of which poses its own Chinese Postman Problem. But how should the large graph be divided into subgraphs so that various factors (such as time and money) are minimized? A model for solving problems such as this is explained in [7], where a model for street sweeping in New York City is discussed in detail. Two approaches to the problem are dealt with: one method that finds a single route for the entire graph and then divides this route into smaller pieces (the route first cluster second approach), and a second method that first divides the graph into pieces and then works with each piece separately (the cluster first route second approach). Methods such as these have been implemented and have resulted in considerable cost savings to the municipalities involved. Suggested Readings 1. J. Edmonds, The Chinese Postman Problem, Operations Research, Vol. 13, Supplement 1, 1965, B S, Goodman and S. Hedetniemi, Eulerian Walks in Graphs, SIAM Journal of Computing, Vol. 2, 1973, pp M. Kwan, Graphics Programming Using Odd and Even Points, Chinese Math., Vol. 1, 1962, pp E. Lawler, Combinatorial Optimization: Networks and Matroids, Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., E. Reingold and R. Tarjan, On a Greedy Heuristic for Complete Matching, SIAM Journal of Computing, Vol. 10, 1981, pp F. Roberts and B. Tesman, Applied Combinatorics, Second Edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J., A. Tucker and L. Bodin, A Model for Municipal Street Sweeping Operations, Chapter 6 in Discrete and System Models, ed. W.Lucas,F. Roberts, and R. Thrall (Volume 3 of Models in Applied Mathematics), Springer-Verlag, New York, 1983, pp

10 Chapter 20 The Chinese Postman Problem 363 Exercises 1. Solve Example 1 with the deadheading time on edge {F, I} changed from 1 to A police car patrols the streets in the following graph. The weight on each edge is the length of time (in minutes) to traverse that street in either direction. If each street is a two-way street and the car starts and ends at A, what is the minimum time needed to patrol each street at least once? 3. Solve Example 2 if the weight of edge {G, H} is changed from 7 to If each bridge in the Königsberg bridge graph (Figure 1) must be crossed at least once, what is the minimum number of bridges that must be crossed more than once, if the circuit begins and ends at A? 5. Find the minimum number of edges that must be retraced when drawing each graph as a circuit. a) K 6 b) K n c) K 2,5 d) K m,n. 6. A street washing truck needs to wash the streets of the following map. The labels on the edges give the time (in minutes) to wash that street. All streets are two-way, except that the street between D and C is oneway northbound. If the truck starts and ends its route at A, find a route that cleans all streets in the smallest amount of time. Assume that one pass down the center of a street washes the street and that the truck must observe the one-way restriction on the street joining D and C. 7. Find the minimum number of edges that must be retraced in the graph of the following figure, where each edge is traced at least once, starting and ending at vertex 1.

11 364 Applications of Discrete Mathematics 8. A computer plotter plots the following figure. It takes the plotter 0.05 seconds to plot each horizontal edge and 0.02 seconds to plot each vertical edge. Assuming that the time required to trace a line remains the same regardless of whether the plotter is plotting or deadheading, that the plotter must begin at a vertex and follow the positions of the lines, and that the plotter must end at the vertex at which it began, what is the minimum length of time required for the plotter to plot the figure? Note: See[5]for further details on this application. 9. Suppose a mail carrier delivers mail to both sides of each street in the graph of Figure 2, and does this by delivering mail on only one side of the street at a time. The mail delivery time for each side of a street is half the weight on the edge. (For example, it takes 3 minutes to deliver mail on each side of street {A, B}). Find the minimum time needed to complete the route. 10. The edges of the squares in an 8 8 chessboard are to be traced as a circuit. What is the smallest number of edges that must be retraced in order to trace the board? Computer Projects 1. Write a program that inputs an unweighted graph and finds the minimum number of edges that must be retraced in a circuit that traces each edge at least once. 2. Write a program that inputs a weighted graph with two odd vertices and finds the minimum weight of a circuit that traverses each edge at least once. 3. Write a program that inputs a weighted graph with 2k odd vertices and finds the minimum weight of a circuit that traverses each edge at least once.

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